Can a beloved film critic survive panning the latest Tarantino and Coen Brothers oeuvres? 3,435 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Even though he was executive editor of the Los Angeles Times, Wilson did not care much for movies. He would never admit it, of course, but his experience and interests centered on national politics, foreign policy and sports. Hard news consumed him — local news as well as news from Washington and Baghdad and Moscow and Beijing. The arts pages were left to deputy editors. Of course, he realized the newspaper’s need to cover Hollywood. The Detroit News covered the auto industry. The L.A. Times covered the film industry. That was that.
So Wilson was obliged to deal with Hollywood. Every few months, he dutifully met the studio moguls who said it was a shame that so many movies were filmed in Canada or Louisiana because of the availability of more lucrative tax credits than in California. Couldn’t the newspaper run more articles about that? In turn, Wilson urged the moguls to buy more advertising which had declined severely with the growth of Internet movie sites. Wilson knew it was a losing battle.
He found them all just a little too smug, and he preferred to spend time with the newspaper’s numerous other constituencies. The auto and real estate people who complained that the paper was anti-business, black and Latino leaders who complained that they weren’t covered enough in the paper, the police chief and his deputies who complained they were misunderstood by reporters, the Jewish leaders who complained the paper was unfair to Israel, the Asians who complained that the articles ignored them. It went on and on. But the problems of these people — as different as they were — seemed real.
The movie guys, and they were all guys, walked into his office with the noxious aroma of entitlement. “Spare me,” he told his secretary whenever the moguls wanted a meeting with him.
But Wilson was a smart editor and, whatever his personal tastes, he knew that there were readers out there who consumed the comic pages and horoscopes every day. Just like they read about the movies every day. Don’t mess around with the comic strips and horoscopes. Don’t mess around with the movies. Besides, the edict from the publisher was to boost online readership. And movies, with their appeal to younger demos, were central to that strategy along with television and music. Circulation was falling at every newspaper in the country, including the L.A. Times. More and more readers saw the newspaper only online, the key to survival.