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Former Foodie Named as Editor of LA Weekly

October 20, 2000|REED JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After feasting on the Big Apple for the last 1 1/2 years, former Times Food section editor Laurie Ochoa is returning to her hometown at the top of the alternative media food chain.

Ochoa, 39, who began her career as a writer and editor at the LA Weekly and currently is executive editor of Gourmet magazine in New York, has been named the Weekly's new editor. She will succeed Sue Horton, editor for the last 6 1/2 years, who is leaving the paper in November to take a journalism fellowship at the University of Maryland.

"It was a hard decision because I'm having a great time here at Gourmet," said Ochoa, who will take over at the free, 225,000-circulation Weekly in February. "I have this perfect job, and we're happy in New York. But then I kept thinking about the Weekly, where I started out my career in journalism, and I've always loved the paper. And in Los Angeles, there are so many things happening, and I want to be back in the middle of it."

Weekly president Mike Sigman joked that it took one word to persuade Ochoa to accept the post: "Pleee-ase!" He said her lifelong knowledge of Southern California will be one of the assets she will bring to the paper, which is owned by Village Voice Media. "Laurie and I started at LA Weekly at almost the same time, and I always thought that she was incredibly smart and also just had this passion for L.A. and this take on L.A.," he said. "For years it was in the back of my mind that she would edit the paper someday."

In returning to Southern California, where she grew up, Ochoa may be the first Latina to assume the top editing job at a U.S. alternative news weekly, said Don Hazen, executive editor of Alternet.org, a Web site that covers alternative media. "At first I thought, 'Gourmet magazine to the LA Weekly? What kind of route is that?' " Hazen said. But his perception changed after speaking with colleagues and investigating Ochoa's background.

"Laurie has spent time at the Weekly, so that's a plus," Hazen said. "And from what I can gather and from what I've read, she's used her writing about food to talk about more important things, about culture and politics and what people are doing around the world. She's also probably had a lot of experience as a manager, which always kind of helps at a rambunctious, feisty institution like the LA Weekly." One Weekly staffer who requested anonymity commented on Ochoa's hiring: "I would say unequivocally that the mood is, overall, optimistic."

Asked in what direction she envisioned taking the Weekly, Ochoa replied: "Sue [Horton] and I are friends, and I like a lot of the things she's done with the paper, but we're different people. As much as I love news--and I don't want to weaken the reputation of the paper at all--I do think I want to do more cultural coverage, too. I want to have fun with the paper and cover things that are happening in architecture and art, and the things that make Los Angeles so much fun to live in."

Sigman said it would be up to Ochoa to balance the paper's cultural coverage with harder news and investigative pieces. "Laurie has a lot of experience as a manager, and she's a person that makes things happen," he said.

Ochoa came to the Weekly as an intern in 1984 and spent four years there as a writer and editor. In 1988, she moved to The Times, working first as a writer and editor in the Calendar section and finally as the Food section editor from 1993 to 1999 before moving to Gourmet. Her boss at Gourmet is former Times food editor Ruth Reichl.

Ochoa's witty, graceful style, as well as her ability to leaven food stories with weightier considerations, was evident in a 1998 story she wrote about game animals, which opened: "When game hunting was necessary for survival in the American West, there were no moral dilemmas to ponder before taking a bite of supper. It was either eat Bambi or die."

Ochoa said that her husband, writer and critic Jonathan Gold, will retain his job as Gourmet's New York restaurant critic. The couple, who have a 6-year-old daughter, will be giving up their West Village apartment and returning to their former home in Pasadena, which they have been renting out. Gold, a former frequent contributor to The Times, will keep a pied-a-terre in New York and commute between coasts. "That'll be hard," Ochoa said, "but he travels a lot as it is."

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