This won’t be the first column of mine that Santa Monica Daily Press Editor-in-Chief Kevin Herrera has been uncomfortable with. But it probably will be the last.
He’ll be uncomfortable with this one because it mentions him, and even worse, says nice things about him. I don’t think he always likes being in the spotlight, but with his job that’s hard to avoid.
It will probably be the last of my columns he has misgivings about, because he’s leaving the paper April 4, to take a position with Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (I’m not announcing this, it’s been public knowledge for a few days.)
Oh, I can hear the howls already. “We knew it!” exults the rabid, no-growth, my-way-or-the-highway crowd. He never was on our side. And now he’s showing his true colors.
To which I say, I know Herrera pretty well and I know he’s someone who loves Santa Monica and wants to see it thrive and prosper and remain dear in our hearts into the 21st century. Same as me. And you. We all just have slightly different roadmaps. Probably not radically different visions.
He’s a really smart guy, and certainly an informed one about Santa Monica, smart and informed enough to understand that putting up a line of skyscrapers on Ocean Avenue and building out to the sidewalk and up to the sky in the rest of Downtown would kill the golden goose, and make his new job promoting our Downtown much tougher than it is today. Notice he didn’t take a job in Miami Beach, or even Newport Beach.
Why has he been uncomfortable with some of the things I’ve written in the past? Is it because I’m a couple of steps to the left of Lennon and he’s a devout capitalist? Nope, it’s because he has tried mightily, I believe, to achieve a balance in the paper, from things he can control like coverage, headlines, editorials and photos, to things only somewhat controllable (columnists), to those beyond his control (advertising, available space, deadlines). But never wanted to stifle a columnist’s unique point of view, because he understands it’s that informed diversity of expression that makes a newspaper much more valuable to its community.
So when I got on my soapbox and wrote (and wrote and wrote) about “Chain Reaction,” or said not-so-nice things about developers or our City Council, stepping on toes, Herrera never said no. He sighed, I’m sure, when he received my latest column and thought, Oh man, not ANOTHER piece about (fill in the blank, cause du jour). Not just from me but taken together with news stories, features, other columnists, letter writers, advertisers, angry voicemail leavers. How do you please everyone? You can’t.
I remember him letting me know that the column I wrote, the third one on police violence (as a national, L.A., but not Santa Monica problem) was sure to result in an uncomfortable conversation he’d have with someone in our local department as to “why the SMDP has such an anti-police bias.” He told me, you write your one column and skip away but I have to live with all these people. Or something like that.
But he never pulled a column, or threatened to, or even once asked me to change a sentence or a word, even when he knew he’d have personal hell to pay.
Because Kevin Herrera is a consummate journalist, and the best editor I have ever worked under. Ever. I don’t say that lightly, and it’s backed by decades of experience. (And obviously I don’t say it to kiss his now-departing behind.)
Herrera and I disagree on more than a few things, but we respect each other as journalists. We know each other’s backgrounds, and shared passion for our off-beat avocation. We’ve talked shop a lot. I won’t bore you with my resume (it bores me, for being too long in the wrong places) but let’s just say that while there are no Pulitzers on my mantle, I’m more than a casual or self-taught observer. (Many columnists have knowledge of their subject matter, but no degree or experience in journalism.)
So I feel my observations should carry a bit more weight than, say, those of the haters whose very slings and arrows reveal how very little they know about the profession and its crazy demands. (You do know that three people, sometimes two, put together this paper, six days a week? That’s amazing.)
In case you’re wondering, I haven’t been offered the job, nor have I applied for it. I know too much about it to want to.
Even if I had never worked with him, I would be sad about Herrera’s departure, hopeful about the future of a paper he had a lot to do with making great, and thankful that we had him for eight years.
Three things I’m passionate about: music, journalism and social justice. I am very grateful to the SMDP for giving me space each week, to sometimes delve into these issues and also to shine a light on some of the many fascinating people, places and events that make Santa Monica a unique and fantastic place to live. And to Herrera for not messing much with my column.
The prime responsibility for the paper of course lies with owner-publisher Ross Furukawa, a visionary, a surfer, and a stand-up guy who knows enough to hire a pro like Herrera and then leave him alone. (OK, now I am drifting into butt bussing territory.) But it’s been Herrera who dealt with the day to day, and has been the truly fair and balanced, demanding, exacting, principled, totally knowledgeable editor for the two years plus I’ve been writing “Curious City,” and “thanks” is just not enough for what I see as his extraordinary contribution to the community, and for offering me a small piece of that each week.
Freedom of information is important. More important than most people realize. It’s in our Constitution, in the Bill of Rights, for Federalists’ sakes! So it’s important, I feel, to recognize someone like Kevin Herrera, whose conscientious devotion to his very important but sometimes overlooked job has been exemplary, and has made Santa Monica a better city, for being better informed.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 28 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org