Matt Welch: the Opinion L.A. chat
Moderator1: Hi, everybody. This is Tim Cavanaugh. We’ve got Matt Welch for the hour.
Moderator1: Let’s start off with a news item: Matt, apparently Conservapedia has been defaced by liberals. Any thoughts?
Matt Welch: Thank God for that. Let’s hope the Second Life Liberation Army has already begun reprisals....
George Vreeland Hill: Hi. I’m George Vreeland Hill.
Matt Welch: Hooray!
Moderator1: George, you’ve been a one-man army at Opinion L.A. Thanks for all your interest.
FatMan: Doesn’t the All England Club’s decision to pay the women’s champ the same prize money as the men’s champ seem unfair considering the women only have to win two-thirds as many sets?
Matt Welch: That’s a good point; never thought about it quite like that. Then again, isn’t it the chivalrous thing to do to give them equal pay for less work? Also, isn’t men’s tennis currently as boring as staring at a bulldozer?
scareduck: Doesn’t that make the women more efficient, then?
Matt Welch: Sure. For which they should be rewarded....
George Vreeland Hill: I hope you liked it all. I have a lot to say about a number of things.
Matt Welch: Verdad.
Moderator1: Here’s one from the mail:
Moderator1: “Will you be attending Media Bistro’s Blogger Party at Bar Lubitsch on March 6th?”
Matt Welch: Only if I’m invited! Aren’t these things kinda exclusive?
FatMan: “Blogger Party”? Isn’t that an oxymoron?
Matt Welch: You know the answer to that question.
Paco’s Taco: Isn’t the Press Club better? Why are you so involved in the Club by the way?
Matt Welch: Well, I’m not, really. Used to be a Board Member, but then kind of stopped going to meetings after unexpectedly being offered a job. Nice people, though.
FatMan: Why did the Angels sign Shea Hillebrand and how do you think his history as a clubhouse cancer and homophobe will play in the OC?
Matt Welch: I guess I forgot the homophobe part. They signed Shea becauses Juan Rivera broke his leg, and someone’s gotta DH. By the time Johnny Rivers is healthy, SR will be trade bait.
scareduck: And, overs and unders on 250 AB...
Matt Welch: For Shea? He’ll have 400, unfortunately. Especially considering that Vlad & G.A. are likely to get hurt. This is what we like to talk about in the Opinion section, btw.
Paco’s Taco: How is the redesign / transformation of the website going? Does the Opinion section have any imput?
Matt Welch: Hard to answer with any precision. There are all these retraining sessions going on with the newsroom, but we’ve been hitting the Web stuff pretty hard, and trying to be as helpful in the process as possible. I honestly don’t know if there’s a specific timetable or whatever.
Moderator1: Paco has another dig at the L.A. Press Club waiting to be heard:
Paco’s Taco: Does that mean that you spend less time at the Press Club and more time with real people?
Matt Welch: Oh, that’s a reverse dig, at my elitism.
scareduck: Okay, if you’re gonna be THAT way about it ... was there an overt political edict going on at Spring Street that hauled both you and Cavanaugh into the fold? Or was it more about, “hey, let’s get the cool, web-centric kids in here”?
Matt Welch: How did Mickey Rourke put it? “The eternal question....” No, I think it was a case of they wanted an editor/writer flexible across story types & mediums (sic), and perhaps w/ some local knowledge. Then, when we had a Web Editor job available, I lobbied hard to get Mr. Crazy.
Moderator1: And speaking for the web-centric kids, I can only say again that the Web is aptly named: We who are stuck in it long to escape.
CF: What was with that Mike Downey “column” from yesterday? I had thought we were well rid of him here in LA. Is it really that hard to fill the page?
Paco’s Taco: I second that.
Matt Welch: Look, it’s real simpleonce a week they say “make Chicago look good, OR ELSE!!” Actually Mike Downey was at least semi-beloved here back in the ‘80s, wasn’t he? And it’s a funny premise.
CF: All non-answers.
George Vreeland Hill: I would like to be a guest editor one day.
joseph mailander: hello, scribes
Moderator1: Guten Tag, Joseph.
Matt Welch: Hey Joseph.
Smythe: Who at the Times actually writes the editorials? Do you divide it up into areas of interest, or does some higher power decide what the paper’s position is going to be, and assigns it accordingly?
Matt Welch: We have an Ed Board of about 10 members, including the three editors (of which I’m third; or perhaps fourth, if you follow); plus around 7 board members. (Look!) Anyway, there are seven others; the 10 of us meet three times a week, and hash out ideas, then they’re divvied up. It’s an actually interesting if obscure process, involving stare decisis and other Latin phrases I don’t understand.
Moderator1: What does stare decisis mean?
scareduck: You mean, starry decisis? Isn’t that a galaxy or something?
joseph mailander: it means, the wisdom of the decision should inform future decisions.
Matt Welch: Moderator: I don’t know. Sex? No, it means our Ed Board historical line, which we’re conscious of.
Matt Welch: Georgeinteresting idea.
Matt Welch: Hey RonPaul4Ever, something you wanna discuss, politics-wise?
Moderator1: You’re in a room with half the Ron Paul supporters in America!
George Vreeland Hill: I love to write, and study what is going on in the world, as well as L.A.
Moderator1: Here’s one from Martin Devon, presumably of patiopundit.com:
Moderator1: “How is working at the Times different from say, Reason magazine? Do your libertarian views get rounded off at the corners? Are you inhibited in expressing your views, as distinct from the views of the paper?”
Matt Welch: Interesting question. The biggest difference is in size, not politics -- Reason’s like 10 people total, the L.A. Times is 940 (though our people are more like 25). Anyway, we’re on record (check link above) as being something akin to “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” ... and as both of you who know my politics know, I was always the least qualified libertarian at Reason... but basically the difference is between Editorials and signed opinion, which is just huge.
RonPaul4Ever: Really basic question: Why is McCain falling behind Giuliani in primary polls, and falling behind the Democrats in general election polls?
Matt Welch: I think it’s pretty obvious that he’s losing most of his latent support among indies & Dems because of the Surge, and because very few people believe the Straight Talk stuff anymore. And for good reason. He also looks kind of sad and mean.
Matt Welch: Also, conservatives still don’t trust him, for a variety of reasons.
Smythe: If the Ducks make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, will the Times send a reporter to cover it?
Matt Welch: Maybe they should just send you.... As a reader, I’ve been unhappy with the cuts in the Sports pages, but I won’t shed one tear about lack of hockey coverage....
Paco’s Taco: Those chats are fun (like being in a cozy time machine...) but are there plans to organize “the LAT meets its readers” type of offline events?
Matt Welch: Yeah, that’s what the whole Zocalo program is for. We’re supposed to be doing such things as often as twice a month; I know that there’s something for I think April involving a few of our columnists. But yes, we need to do more 21st century things, in addition to these chats.
scareduck: But does McCain get through the GOP primaries?
Matt Welch: I think this is going to be the weirdest primary race in our adult lifetimes. OK, I hope. Anyway, my weird bet is that he’ll actually drop out, on account of being sad...
scareduck: “21st century things”: involves rocketpacks and tight-fitting uniforms?
CF: yes, but with Zocalo comes your “nemesis”, Kevin Roderick
Matt Welch: Scareduck, I can only hope. CF, I have no such nemesis. K-Rod’s one of my faves. I’ll never ankle him as long as I live to chat.
CF: Oh of course I mean the Times’ nemesis, not yours...
joseph mailander: I saw in the Times blog that some Times editors were in the near east just before the November elections. Someone even posted photos. I was wondering if anyone thought that was tough timing, given that the election was right around the corner. Or are you guys able to make all the right decisions from far away?
Matt Welch: Well, we have many editors here, as Mickey Kaus and others have noted. We also like to encourage people (and by “people” I mean “not me”) to go out & about in the world, learning stuff. At any given time one of us is gone, but we can absorb it, usually. I don’t think it has a big impact on the page.
FatMan: When is LA gonna pony up for a real police force?
Matt Welch: You’re from the East Coast, yeah? That’s one of the favorite tropes we enjoy tweaking -- compare everything to New York! Well, L.A.'s still a largely horizontal (if surprisingly dense) city, and though we probably don’t have enough cops, we don’t require 40,000 of the guys. Partly because we don’t much enjoy living in police states.
joseph mailander: I know you guys have a lot of editors. I do remember a time when I would write an op-ed and there would be about three edits to it, and we’d go over those three on the phone. Now it seems like it’s two decades later and scribes are getting edited a lot more. Are we getting worse as scribes?
Matt Welch: Joseph -- who knows? Could be that you have a particularly heavy-handed editor (*cough*). I think it’s always a trap to assign some kind of intelligence or explanation to a 940-headed beast.
RonPaul4Ever: What do you make of the “Victory Caucus”? (Warbloggers banding together to fundraise for challenges to anti-war Republicans.)
Matt Welch: I think it’s a logical conclusion for their activities. Looks like the Republicans are gearing up for some wilderness years.... But, you know, good on ‘em. To the extent that this is their main issue, and they think it’s life or death, this is a perfectly appropriate/understandable action.
Paco’s Taco: Are you guys at the Opinion section in touch with the editors of local foreign-language opinion pages? It could be interesting to do a weekly review “best of” of editorials in the Spanish language, Korean language etc. newspapers. There is a whole world out there that we can’t access because of language issues and it would be great if the Times could help. I’d like to understand Koreatown beyond the karaoke bars and tofu palaces.
Moderator1: Hey man, I try and dope my way through La Opinion every day--and not just because it’s Opinion L.A. spelled backward!
Matt Welch: That’s a good idea, actually ... we gotta write that down! We’re in touch with some foreign-language editors (I with the Armenians, for whatever reason), but not on as organized way as we should. But we’ve talked about it.
scareduck: Assuming McCain falls on his sword, one way or t’other, who emerges as the lead dog in the GOP?
Matt Welch: Dunno! Giuliani, I presume. And some other guy/gal who isn’t in the race yet. I don’t take Romney seriously just yet, but that just could be my anti-masshole bias. (Also, people who become social conservatives late in their political lives are not my faves.)
joseph mailander: Some of us in town interviewed Senator Durbin yesterday. There were lots of write-ups. Should the Times get in the online business of routinely reporting blogger’s meeting with Senators, or are they typically too stagey. i know that on the progressive side, the questions are often challenging.
Matt Welch: One of the things we do frequently, but too-infrequently share with readers, is meet with various politicos & foreign leaders with the editorial board. For instance, just yesterday some of us met with former FEC chair Brad Smith; and even as we speak we’ve got the Pakistani Ambassador in the conference room. Hopefully you’ll see more of what we did w/ Bill Richardson, which is simply transcribe some of those deals & put ‘em on the blog. Also, since it’s going to be nonstop presidential politics here now, we’ll be going out and retrieving more of that stuff.
Smythe: Is the Times ever going to revisist the wikitorial concept?
Matt Welch: I think you’re supposed to wait 1,000 years before disturbing buried spirits.... No, we’ll likely do fun-type online things, but probably not on a Wiki basis.
RonPaul4Ever: If David Geffen buys the LA Times, can we expect a swing towards some good old Winchell-style yellow journalism tearing Hillary apart? (Feel free to answer this smart-ass query indirectly.)
Matt Welch: David, I TOLD you not to bother me here! Answering seriously, one would suppose that he might have some issues with scurrilous gossip, given that he’s a big Hollywood dude who does not enjoy scrutiny.
joseph mailander: nonstop presidential politics ---Is that an official editorial decision/edict? The people who cover the State business really want more coverage.
Matt Welch: Speaking just for our little detached shop, I would put Robert Greene ahead of just about everybody in terms of coverage, genuine civic/state interest, and delectable writing style. We could and should do more, obviously.
Ben: Does the Times and/or your section comfort the afflicted & afflict the comfortable? My sense is it does the latter more, but sees less room for standing up for the disadvantaged.
Matt Welch: Well, what does that mean, Master Ben? We devoted our biggest energy last year in tackling the difficult homelessness issue from about 17 different directions -- all of them very responsible, I would argue -- but whenever interested parties didn’t like our conclusion we would get accused of not having a big enough heart. Public policy’s tough, and bleeding hearts aren’t always right.
George Vreeland Hill: I am in New Hampshire right now. The political scene is really heating up.
scareduck: I bet some people are still having heartburn over Robert Scheer’s forced exodus... I’m not one of ‘em.
scareduck: For that matter, I can’t remember the last time I read Sherry Bebitch Jeffe (sp?), either ...
Matt Welch: scareduck -- That decision predated me; I’m actually a longtime friend of the Scheer family. People still do bring it up, because he had a devoted local following.
joseph mailander: Are people really, really, really conscious of circulation figures there, or do they shrug them off? Are the figures they toss around honest ones?
Matt Welch: Tough to say. Again, I don’t have the finger on the pulse of the newsroom; it’s a different culture there, with a different boss. Here you’ll hear the occasional bit of gallows humor about it all (as you’d expect), but not really detailed discussion of the numbers. My sense is that in general people sympathetic to the Times aren’t talking frankly about how utterly huge those losses have been, but maybe I’m wrong about that.
Smythe: Considering the meager coverage of prep sports in the paper, has the paper given any consideration about employing freelancers (emphasis on “free”) to cover local high schools? Considering that most of the interested writers would themselves be highschoolers, it would seem to be a neat way your paper could appeal to the next generation.
Moderator1: Smythe, that’s a question after my own heart. My favorite paper, the Fang-owned San Francisco Independent, was a gallery of high school sports coverage and lots of weird local news. That having been said, local coverage tends to be something people want in principle but don’t pay attention to in practice.
Matt Welch: And I’d just add that the Sports Dept. seems to be moving aggressively online, so maybe you’ll start seeing some Jeff Jarvis-style Citizen Journalism along these lines.
Smythe: Any likelihood the Corvids will ever get back together?
Matt Welch: Were we ever apart? Appreciate the plug.... We’ve actually begun to practice again for the first time in a while....
Paco’s Taco: If you had one superpower...
Matt Welch: Intergalactical flight.
Moderator1: How come there isn’t a superhero who fights crime through worrying?
scareduck: Yeah, I keep meaning to ask about circulation issues. Per-se-papers are plummeting; aside from the let’s-get-on-this-Interweb-thingy tub thumping coming from the top, and the hiring of new editress Meredith Artley, is there something like a solid business plan to convert latimes.com into a profitable-enough enterprise to where the Times doesn’t have to close its offices outside LA?
Matt Welch: Let’s hope so! No, I think those plans are unfolding and deploying even while still being formulated. If there was a magic bullet for making money online, every newspaper would have jumped at it. OK, not “jumped,” but “made a lumbering half-hearted half-skip.” These are big institutions, hard to turn in new directions. But the level of commitment here right now to the proposition is very palpable, so I think it’s encouraging for all of us.
Moderator1: I have no influence on business models, but I would like to see the LAT try to distribute harder throughout California. You can hardly find the paper in San Franciscoand it would be a work of corporal mercy to give San Franciscans an alternative to the Chron.
scareduck: I must say I’ve been pleased with the new giddyup in the Sports sections online; the decision to push baseball updates to whenever (read: mid-day) is a good one.
joseph mailander: I’ve been live-blogging this chat, paraphrasing at MartiniRepublic. Should I not be? I should have asked permission, in retrospect.
Moderator1: I think the gods of intellectual property will wink at your sin.
scareduck: Not me. I’m suing your ass.
Matt Welch: Hey Joseph -- We appreciate anybody blogging us at any level. Part of our task here is to be part of the conversation, facilitate it with people at sites like yours, LAobs, Mayor Sam, and so on. So, blog away, dum dums! (Inside joke.)
Smythe: Any chance Hiltzik is going to return as a columnist, or is he permanently barred after the sockpuppet incident? His work on doping labs and the persecution of athletes has been outstanding.
Matt Welch: I don’t have any clue about the first part of your question, and totally 100% agree with the second half. That was some damned good reporting.
Moderator1: OK, last call for questions.
joseph mailander: Not out of prurient interest, but are there any women in this chatroom?
Paco’s Taco: Have you ever downloaded a podcast? If so, which one? Are you planning one or some old-fashioned radio show with the Opinion team to dialogue with readers?
Matt Welch: Me personally? No, I am scared by all technology. But we are planning to do more podcasts (we’ve done them in the past, believe it or not, with the likes of Meghan Daum & Patt Morrison). It’s in our future, for sure.
Eric : I just joined--can’t see record of prior conversation, but my question is about the consistent use of straw man arguments by Times columnists.
Matt Welch: Doh! Who, in particular?
Eric: Today featured 2 examples: Jonah Goldberg on liberals who supposedly want to censor “24" and the Hoover Foundation guy claiming critics of global corporatization offer no alternative paradigms.
Moderator1: You know what I think is the ultimate strawman argument? The congenitally dishonest Andrew Sullivan’s widely praised non-acknowledgment about how wrong he was on Iraq: Sure I was wrong, but MICHAEL MOORE DIDN’T EVEN WANT TO INVADE AFGHANISTAN!
Eric: Could Goldberg actually name a group calling for censoring the show, rather than just expressing concerns about torture being portrayed as an effective tool?
Matt Welch: Well, I can just say, weasel-like, that straw men are among what we look for in editing. It’s always a fine line in polemics between letting a person use their own rhetorical devices and making sure they’re being 100% totally pure on every argument. It’s a moving target. As for the column in question, I didn’t think he came on too strong about the lefty-censorship angle....
Eric: And I could offer the Hoover op-ed writer (not columnist) a substantial list.
Moderator1: Eric, if you’d like to send something in, that would make an interesting item for Opinion L.A.
Matt Welch: You should totally write a letter to the editor! And I don’t mean that in a blow-offy way at all!
Paco’s Taco: I mean, these chats are nice in a weird way but a good ol’ weekly radio show would be even better.
scareduck: How about MAKING a podcast...
Moderator1: We have top people looking into it, Paco. Top people.
George Vreeland Hill: Thanks for the chat! There were some interesting things here. By the way, the Lakers did not get Kidd.
Moderator1: Thanks, everybody!
Paco’s Taco: Gracias!
Matt Welch: Thank god for that. Jordan’s safe! Thanks everybody!