Even in a Media Vacuum, Los Angeles’s Meals Writing Scene Grows
The Los Angeles Times is sold for $ 500 million to local biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong. This is a quick and sudden turn for the media landscape in America’s second largest city. For years, both digital and print publications have been in decline in LA, leaving food writers, critics, and the restaurants they cover little opportunities to debate the most vibrant culinary scene in the country. But now, in the wreckage of LA Weekly sales, the loss of critic Besha Rodell, and the downsizing of LAist, the Times sale could mean things are going a little better.
The Times sale comes after many years of unease under parent company Tronc, based in Chicago, and recent employee riots, layoffs and sexual assault allegations. The Times Newsroom recently voted for a union to have a bigger say in budget cuts, layoffs and possible business relocation plans and will now be back under local control under Soon-Shiong.
It’s early in the sales process – things won’t be finalized until April – but staff seem thrilled with the prospect of Soon-Shiong (a Lakers associate) running the show. What this means for the once resilient food sector of paper remains to be seen, but the company still employs talent like Jonathan GoldFood media gatekeeper Amy Scattergood and Jenn Harris, and it’s likely that an influx of money and a sense of stability will help move the paper forward through 2018 and beyond.
Much of the rest of the restaurant and food media void is covered hyperlocally, with a mentality that is local in places like Brigham Yen downtown. The real estate agent is often the first to announce major restaurant plans, especially when they coincide with development agreements. Urbanize LA and Curbed LA also routinely deal with the confluence of real estate and restaurants in the city.
Amy Scattergood in the LA Times LA Times offices
Others go into their personal communities to promote the restaurant. Writer Brian Addison keeps an eye on Long Beach with his website LongBeachize, while Toddrickallen of the same name keeps spying on restaurant news for the Westside. Neither of them are as robust, connected, or well funded as a traditional newspaper, but they provide local details about a city that is often painted with very broad brushstrokes by newspapers like the NY Times. And then there’s LA Taco, creator of the annual Taco Madness tournament and food festival and lover of street food and art. They hired longtime food writer Javier Cabral to expand the website’s food coverage and it’s already paying off. Writer Gustavo Arellano also contributes to LA Taco when he can.
Local locations provide details about a city that is often painted with very broad brushstrokes
On the more traditional end, it is covered by regional newspapers like the Pasadena Star-News, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, and the OC Weekly and OC Register for Orange County. Ventura Boulevard Magazine writer Josh Lurie (also a contributor to Eater) has been covering the most comprehensive restaurant in the San Fernando Valley for the past few years, and Food & Wine hit LA hard over the past year with stories of openings, closings, and events obscure high-end pop-up restaurants in Andy Wang’s Highland Park. LA Magazine no longer has a critic, but it still publishes some great monthly print issues.
That brings the scene to the hotly contested LA Weekly. The country’s largest alternative free weekly newspaper was bought and gutted by a team of mostly Orange County locals last November, putting one of the city’s major food departments at risk. They’ve since hired a new grocery editor named Michele Stueven, but almost none of the paper’s previous contributors have returned, leaving the grocery department often for days without a single new story. LAist was also dismantled in early November by billionaire CEO Joe Ricketts and has not returned.
And so the LA food landscape soldiers carry on, with only a few large actors and many smaller outlets taking over the cloak. Today’s news of the Times’ sale to local owners sounds positive for the future, at least at first glance, and the continued surge in Twitter and Instagram means well-known diners still have opportunities to discover their next favorite food or secluded restaurant. But it’s nice to see a new kind of food media landscape in Los Angeles converge at the exact moment it’s needed most, even if it doesn’t look quite like the traditional media tent poles that do are commonly found in cities like Washington and New York. Once again, Los Angeles is showing the rest of the country that doing things a little differently than doing them wrong is not the same.