We don’t need no steenkin’ wine coverage!

July 20th, 2008

LA Times search (image simulated).

You would think the major newspaper in a metropolis located just 90 minutes south of Santa Barbara County wine country (and another 90 north of Temecula) would have a staff wine writer or wine critic. If not to speak for the wines of those two regions, then to only “represent” the West Coast wine writing contingent (if not perspective). For some time, the Los Angeles Times has had that role filled by a few staff writers and Corie Brown.

In a Time.com piece of some time ago, I read that the LA Times was going to lay off one sixth of its staff. “Not a good time to go pitching a column to the chief editor”, I thought. Then, by way of GoodGrape, I heard of this post by Jancis Robinson.

I am more often called jaded than naive, so I guess I’m surprised at myself for not thinking that the paper would can Corie Brown. It is not clear what will become of the paper’s wine coverage or how it will be pared down. One thing is for sure: Alice Feiring is now writing a wine related column for the LA Times Magazine – a related but separate publication. This, Alice has confirmed to me.

My contacts at the LA Times (who appreciate their anonymity) have not been able to give me a sense of the paper’s daily wine coverage but did indicate that the Los Angeles Times Magazine is outside the auspices of the daily newspaper’s editorial staff and is said to resemble a lifestyle publication in its operation.

Now, I have not met Alice Feiring and know her only through email so I have no basis on which to condemn her. She seems like a nice person. In some ways, she reminds me of a girl I used to know. In any case, I have no basis or cause to bash her and that is not what I want to do here. I suspect that she will not be a mouthpiece of those in charge of the Los Angeles Times Magazine.

I do think that this change (however reasonable from a business standpoint) speaks volumes about the management at the LA times.

It says that they don’t care that coverage of local events needs to be done by a local writer. But that takes us back to the big question of just how regular LA Times wine coverage will be. Again, I have nothing against Alice and I am not seeking to oust her, but I get the sense that if the budget-minded management could find someone in a country on the other side of the planet to farm out daily wine coverage, they’d do it in a heartbeat. Damn the consequences.

The management’s decision to eliminate a staff wine writer means that they either think the local wine industry does not need or does not deserve a critic and advocate on the newspaper’s staff. It also says that, in the management’s view, the topic is not broad and important enough and the job can be effectively filled by occasional freelancers.

And so we come to the final analysis: In the minds of the paper’s management, wine is not that important to Angelenos and there is no L.A. based writer who can cover this city’s and this state’s wine beat. Not in print, not online.

In making this move, the LA Times management have detached and isolated themselves from one of the defining industries of this state.


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6 Responses to “We don’t need no steenkin’ wine coverage!”

  1. Steve Heimoff Says:

    Arthur, the LA Times has been going downhill and downsizing for many years. It’s a pity, as it once was one of the great newspapers in the U.S. As you know, here in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Chronicle has an entire weekly section on wine. I’m hoping it doesn’t go away, and I don’t think it will. San Franciscans are pretty passionate about vino.

  2. Arthur Says:

    Thanks, Steve.

    I understand that the wine coverage (for whatever publication) will be provided by a handful of freelance writers.
    I’m sure they are all good people, but this is not the same as having a resident wine wonk who is local and has a feel for the people they write for.

  3. el jefe Says:

    I’m sad about this. I understand downsizing at newspapers as Steve appropriately pointed out. However, I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley near LA, and the LA Times was where I first read about and learned about wine. And now they won’t be there for the next generation of wine drinkers.

  4. Morton Leslie Says:

    I have never felt the LA Times, or any newspaper for that matter has contributed much in writing about wine. I mean for years there wasn’t a wine column at the NY Times and wine articles there were written by a crime reporter. Both in the NY and LA Times I have seen at least one column which was for the most part verbatum from a press release. I know because I had the press release. For a time some of us looked at the column as a form of paid advertising, not that we ever bought an ad in the newspaper.

    The most successful thing the LA Times ever did was in the Sunday supplement, Balzar’s column. Bob got a few dozen winemakers together to judge wines and pick the best California wine. (At the Lawry Center… ugh) At the first one we picked a 1969 Cabernet as the best Calif. wine from a struggling Napa winery and put it on the map. It’s owner became the most famous vintner in the world. At that time Balzar was the equivalent of Parker in selling your product with a favorable review. Balzar’s still teaching classes at 94, maybe they should bring him back.

    As I understand it the Los Angeles paper in downsizing is devoting more space to community news and adding more state and local news. That might indicate covering one of the states thriving businesses would be appropriate, but they seem to feel otherwise. Since more and more readers of the Times are doing so online perhaps management is looking to what they can do online that others can’t. They know they can’t afford be all things to all people any more. They will leave wine education to others. Is it really that big a loss?

  5. Larry Schaffer Says:

    It’s not surprising to me that the LA Times did this – cutbacks are inevitable in many businesses, and I would think print media might be hit harder than others with the current downturn in the economy. It is a shame that they chose to cut this coverage vs. others, but it’s not the end of the world. As we all know, there are many many other avenues to learn about wines, different regions, etc.

    What would be interesting to investigate is what the SF Chronicle is doing ‘right’ vs. what the LA Times did. The Chron, as others have pointed out, have a weekly section on wine. Are there more advertisers in this section than the LA Times was able to entice into theirs? Perhaps the LA Times could (or should still) approach both the Temecula Valley Vintners Assoc and the Santa Barbara County Vintner’s Assoc and offer ‘deals’ for continuous ads – scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours . . . They would then have a vested interest in continuing to cover regions that, I agree with others, certainly deserves it.


  6. David Says:

    Santa Barbara winery country does not have it bad compared to the Temecula wineries. Who has even heard of Temecula??? As a result, we have tried to provide some visibility at http://Temecula-Wineries.net. I will tell you what, I will visit Santa Barbara wineries in exchange for you visiting Temecula

    Regarding the LA Times, don’t you feel that it has been irrelevant for some time. The web has kind of taken over for those looking for news. It provides video and more recent info.