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'It sounds like our own little newspaper war' : --Brian Moore, community leader : Old Pros Give Big City Flair to Hometown Newsletters

December 29, 1985|STEPHEN BRAUN | Times Staff Writer

Once a month, if the mailman is reliable and there is enough news, 650 residents of the remote hillside neighborhood of Hollywood Heights receive copies of the View, an uncommon little community newsletter.

Like most newsletters distributed by community associations, the View informs members of the Hollywood Heights Assn. about the grist of neighborhood life--garage sales, Christmas parties, volunteer phone banks and the occasional intrusion of developers.

But the View has a professional touch few newsletters can claim. Its editor is Theo Wilson, a retired New York Daily News reporter who made a career of covering space launches, royal weddings and the nation's most sensational criminal and political trials. And its staff has included several journalists and professional writers who have been called on for help when deadline approached.

The View even has journalistic competition, of sorts. Several miles to the north and deeper into the hills, retired New York Times national correspondent Gladwin Hill helps patch together monthly editions of the Hollywoodlander, the official news organ of the Hollywoodland Improvement Assn.

'Our Own Little War'

"It sounds like our own little newspaper war," chuckled Brian Moore, president of the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns., an umbrella organization of 47 community groups. To Moore, the involvement of professionals such as Wilson and Hill in hillside community newsletters is to be expected.

"There's an incredible talent pool out in the hills," Moore said. "With all the professional writers we have, it only stands to reason that sooner or later we'd get a few of them working on our newsletters."

Moore and other hillside activists say that newsletters are often the crucial link between them and the members of their associations.

Carole Stevens, who preceded Moore as head of the hillside federation, describes community newsletters as "the heart of an association. A newsletter can tell the leaders of an association what issues the residents are interested in. And it informs the readers what they need to know about what's going on around them. The strongest associations are the ones that have newsletters."

At least 35 of the federation's 47 associations distribute newsletters. Some go out monthly, others are sent out quarterly. "Sometimes, you only put them out when you've got something to write about," Moore said.

Mail Dependency

The View usually goes out monthly, unless mail delivery is slow. "We're trying hand delivery now," Wilson said. "We'll try anything, just as long as we don't have to rely on the post office anymore. Last time, we used bulk mail (and) it took three weeks for the View to get out."

For Wilson, an 30-year veteran of the Daily News before she retired in 1982, putting out the View each month is a far cry from covering major trials with defendants such as Charles Manson, Patricia Hearst, Daniel Ellsberg, Jack Ruby, John DeLorean and Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler.

But Wilson, who is preparing to write a book on her most sensational trials, has grown accustomed to her new role. "Sometimes it's a pain in the rear," she said. "But there are a lot of things to be proud about."

Unlike most newsletters, which are simple mimeographed sheets with basic information, the View runs photographs and artwork by residents. Its most recent issue contained a 2 1/2-page interview with City Councilman Michael Woo, who represents the area, and the last installment of a two-part series on crime prevention. And most issues even contain a few advertisements, which defray some of the costs--which can run as much as $120 a month just for mailing.

"We get into things that you just don't find in most newsletters," Wilson said.

Even competitor Gladwin Hill is impressed by the View's look and contents. "Theo's is a little more elegant than our own newsletter," he said.

'Like a Weekly'

Like Wilson, the white-haired Hill, who opened the New York Times' Los Angeles bureau in 1949 and became the newspaper's first national environmental writer in 1973, has adjusted to his new journalistic role. "It's like working on a county weekly," he said.

Hill, who now free-lances and still writes occasional opinion pieces for the New York Times, has edited the Hollywoodlander only a few times. But he writes a monthly roundup called "Casing the Canyons," and contributes other articles. "The other people on the (association) board figured I knew which end of the typewriter was which, so they got me to knock out a few regular features for them," he said.

When coyotes began invading local yards, Hill wrote about the marauders. When he noticed the regular visits of a United Parcel Service driver, Hill "backed him into a corner and interviewed him."

Wilson also writes for the newsletter when no one else is available. But her neighbors include Associated Press reporter Linda Deutsch and free-lance writer Herb Berlin, who also have been pressed into service.

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