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Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Another One Bites the Dust
I don't know exactly why, but this photo somehow seems appropriate...
Last year I wrote a post about Dan Neil, a writer for the LA Times who (to the best of my knowledge) remains the only automotive scribe ever to win a Pulitzer Prize. He deserved it, too, writing with a passionate flair rarely found in any form of journalism. Although I’m not really a car guy, I’ve long been a total sucker for good writing on just about any subject -- and Dan Neil is an extremely gifted writer.
Some of you were already hip to Neil’s work, and I hope others have discovered the pleasure of reading his columns since then. If not, you can find one of his most recent efforts right here. As usual, it’s a treat to read.
That’s the good news. Unfortunately, last year's post year was all-too-prescient, closing with this warning:
“And given what's going on with newspapers these days, you'd better check him out while you still can...”
According to one of our local NPR stations last week, Neil will soon leave the LA Times to write for the Wall Street Journal. That’s bad news for those of us hooked on reading his columns in the Times. The Wall Street Journal is subscription-only, meaning Neil’s wit, wisdom, and stylishly seductive prose won't be available to those who do not – or will not – support a newspaper with an editorial page committed to mainlining toxic doses of corporate propaganda into the veins of our already overly-fractious country. I'm glad to subscribe to the LA Times, but refuse to feed the sulfurous fire from within represented by the WSJ -- a corrosive blaze designed to eat away the core of our government until nothing remains but a hollow shell run by and for the benefit of our corporate overlords. And really, why would anyone expect a paper named The Wall Street Journal to slice open the white reptilian underbelly of Big Business and spill out the ugly truth therein?
That's just not gonna happen.
Why would such a talented writer leave the launching pad of his greatest professional success – the newspaper of record for Southern California, home of Car Culture -- to write for a button-down, starched-shirt, politically constipated rag like the Wall Street Journal?
He’s got reasons. Neil once headlined of an entire section of the LA Times edicated to cars and the auto industry, but that evaporated in the hot desert sun along with so much of the paper over the past few years. Due to shortsighted, borderline incompetent management (thanks for nothing, Chicago Tribune) and the ongoing decline of the newspaper biz in general, the LA Times has been shrinking like a wet wool sweater in a scalding hot drier, and there’s no reason to think this process is over. Aboard a sinking ship, those who want to survive sooner or later must swim for their professional lives, and I suspect that’s exactly what Dan Neil is doing. That he’s been engaged in a lawsuit with the new owner of the Times, Sam Zell, for several month may have played a role in his decision -- instituting legal action against one’s boss has never been a recipe for job security. As it is, the steadily diminishing LA Times relegated Neil to a small space at the bottom of the Business page, and although his addition considerably improved that dry-as-dust section of the paper, it didn’t do much to showcase his talents.
Beyond the obvious rationales, I’m sure he’s got other reasons for moving to the WSJ. It’s entirely possible they made him an offer he simply couldn’t refuse, and in that case, I really hope he put the screws to those miserable corporate bastards and is making them pay through the nose. But this a rather forlorn hope at best in a situation that will end with his loyal LA Times readers losing out no matter what.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nothing good lasts very long here in LA. Why this is, I don't know -- the brutally hot sun, the dry desert winds, or maybe just the transitory, up-today/down-tomorrow bi-polar insanity of Hollywood. I don't suppose the "why" really matters -- it is what it is, and ain't gonna change. So take a tip from last year's post and check him out while you still can.
Meanwhile, I'll start trying to find a way to steal copies of the goddamned Wall Street Journal...