Sunday, March 14, 2010

Randall Roberts makes good at L.A. Times!

I have been beset by memories and reflections since learning from a Randall Roberts status update that he is the new pop music editor for The L.A. Times, which I consider to be one of the best music journalism jobs in the world - and based in my personal favorite American city.

The memories and reflections set in after an initial burst of pride. I have known Randall and watched him work for a long time, and nothing explains his success other than talent, hard work and knowing how to deal with people.

These are the facets of a professional that impress me, as opposed to powerful connections, an influential family legacy or the assassin's skill at stabbing in the back the people ahead of you in line - none of which describes Randall Roberts, so far as I know.

I don't know him well enough, personally, to say "it couldn't happen to a nicer guy," but I can say it couldn't happen to a more deserving professional. The reflections start there - with an agreeable sense that the right guy got the plum gig.

I also take a collegial pride in the success of a fellow East Sider who did something with himself, starting in the bigger city across the river, St. Louis.

Randall is from Edwardsville, Illinois, a state university town across the Mississippi from St. Louis; I am from Granite City, Illinois, a steel town a few miles downriver. Uncle Tupelo, the rock band from our era that made the biggest splash (and splintered into Son Volt and Wilco) are from Belleville, Illinois, just a few more miles downriver.

It's always occurred to me that St. Louis got a lot of spark from us upstarts from the wrong side of the river (or from the out-state fringes, like Crystal City, which produced Chicken Truck, who became the Bottle Rockets). It's like we didn't know any better. St. Louis looked like a big deal, compared to our lesser towns, so we made the most of it, mostly uninfected by the habitual insecurity about St. Louis that plagues many of its parochial natives.

I have had some success as a journalist in St. Louis, then taken my show on the road and had some success in more competitive markets. I worked as a travel editor in New York City and covered Connecticut for The New York Times. But I probably would not have left St. Louis had our beloved local weekly, The Riverfront Times, not been sold to a chain out of Phoenix that had a bad reputation among writers.

So I'm not one who thinks you need to leave St. Louis and be anointed elsewhere. In fact, since I moved back home from New York to edit The St. Louis American, I have been struck by the wide scope to make a difference that a smaller media market affords. I think a smaller city can be a very exciting place to do journalism.

However, I will admit that it makes me proud to see Randall rise to prominence in St. Louis media, take a transfer to Los Angeles, rise in prominence in that more competitive city, and then make the extremely rare, elusive leap from weekly paper (L.A. Weekly) to daily paper - (L.A. Times) and leadership at a daily paper, no less.

Randall's success thus far has all come at the chain that bought out our beloved local weekly. I don't hold that against him - there are slim pickings for media jobs in St. Louis, and Randall managed to hold onto a good one, and then ride it out to L.A. What it means, at this point, is he must have developed some skill at office politics in a corporate (eccentric, but corporate) media envirnment, which suggests he is not in for any major system shocks in his new position.

Other than that daily deadline ... But then, the blog thing broke most weekly scribes into that transition, which may mean that Randall is part of a new trend, where the snobbish divisions between dailies and weeklies is eroded a bit in the minds of those who hire and fire.

Finally, and less importantly, I was moved to blog about Randall's success and his new position to put on the record (even on the record of a blog) a small fact that now looks a little bigger. A couple of winters ago I struggled to write my first novel. I haven't succeeded in selling it yet, but I intend to. It includes a minor character, named John Thomson, who is the pop music critic for the L.A. Times.

Since Randall landed this sweet job after I wrote my novel, but before more than a handful of people have read it, I felt the need to establish somewhere that my imagining the events of the novel came first in time. John Thomson is not a bad character, or a particularly important one, and Randall may never read this thing; but if he does, I wouldn't want him straining to find shadows of himself. They're not there.
So, that's that. And all the best to Randall in what I consider one of the very jobs of its kind in the world. We expect great things from him.

No comments: