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A new voice shouts out

June 22, 2003|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

The tall man with long black hair, dressed head to toe in the same color, towered over a crowd of freelance writers, rock band publicists and a few icons of the local alternative press. Everywhere he turned, someone was ready with a handshake -- transforming Steve Appleford, the executive editor of the city's two new alternative newsweeklies, CityBeat and ValleyBeat, into a sort of goth mayor of left-leaning L.A. He stood at the entrance to the Larchmont on Melrose Avenue, greeting guests on their way into the party celebrating the June 12 launch of both papers.

Their existence is owed to the Justice Department, which mandated the creation of an alternative weekly to replace New Times as part of a tentative settlement. In October, the government charged that New Times violated antitrust laws by ceding Los Angeles to the LA Weekly in exchange for $11 million and the Cleveland market. Southland Publishing, owner of the Pasadena Weekly, San Diego CityBeat and the Ventura County Reporter, jumped at the government's call for proposals.

"We thought, well, this could be a natural progression for us," said publisher Rick Haelig. "It was surprising the number of former employees of the L.A. Reader, LA Weekly and New Times who all touched based with us to say the timing is good."

On the job just three months, Appleford has assembled a staff of seasoned local journalists (some of whom, like him, also freelance for The Times), including Dean Kuipers as deputy editor, Kevin Uhrich as senior editor, Andy Klein as film editor and music writers Dennis Romero and Natalie Nichols as senior writer and arts editor, respectively. "We're trying to cover this city not just as a tabloid mecca," Appleford said. "We want to cover it with a certain amount of seriousness and irreverence."

Hence the starry-eyed Osama bin Laden on the cover of CityBeat along with a story about the LAPD's Counter-Terrorism Bureau, and the inside photo of Richard Riordan holding a copy of his own publication, the Los Angeles Examiner, by Gary "Take My Picture" Leonard. (Riordan's publication has yet to move beyond the prototype stage, but staff expect a fall debut.)

At the weeknight party, everyone swarmed the dark club's glowing bar, grateful for the free drinks. People stood three deep at the sushi bar tucked in one corner even after the harried sushi chef had run out of rice.

Aside from a few names from the rock scene -- Kim Fowley, British writer and CityBeat contributor Mick Farren, and writer Don Waller among them -- the guest list lacked celebrity. "We didn't invite most of the politicos who run the town," Haelig said. "We tried to invite friends, family and key clients that may not have heard of us."

There were, however, a few folks who considered themselves friends of the new paper who weren't invited. Editor Ken Layne posted the CityBeat invitation on the Web site. "They tried to hire all my people and didn't send us an invite," he said in an interview a few days later. "Half the staff of CityBeat wrote for the Examiner prototype."

But Kuipers, who assembled the guest list, said he didn't deliberately overlook Layne and his staff. "I simply don't know any of them," he said.

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