Not Dead Yet

Readers persuade Times to reconsider spiking Gurza column

Agustin Gurza's column in the Los Angeles Times is not dead yet. Despite Gurza's April 3 farewell piece, five prominent Latino leaders from Orange County persuaded Times management to reconsider spiking the twice-weekly column that focused on their community.

John Carroll, editor and executive vice president of the Times, received several visitors on April 10 at his downtown Los Angeles office: National Hispanic Media Coalition president Alex Nogales; Los Amigos of Orange County chairman Amin David; Santa Ana merchant Teresa Saldivar; Santa Ana lawyer Jess Araujo; and Norma Cobb, an aide to state Senator Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana). For roughly an hour, they insisted that Gurza was the only writer, Latino or otherwise, who really knew how to cover Orange County's ever-growing, increasingly complex Latino community.

Gathering two days later at the Martinez Book and Art Gallery in Santa Ana with about 30 Gurza fans, the delegation reported that Carroll told them he would reconsider killing Gurza's column and meet with them again in 10 days.

"Maybe [Latinos] have enough influence as a community now that our voices can be heard," remarked Araujo. "Carroll spoke to us very openly and listened very openly."

To help Carroll with his decision, the leaders urged their listeners to bombard him and other Times officials with e-mails demanding that Gurza's column be reinstated. The crowd seemed glad to oblige.

But despite the ray of hope out of Spring Street, some seemed ready to declare an immediate Latino boycott of the Times. The first and only other countywide Latino boycott of the paper took place five years ago when the OC edition spent more than a year pursuing groundless allegations that ex-Congressman Bob Dornan (R-Garden Grove) lost his seat because of electoral fraud at the hands of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, a Santa Ana-based immigrant-service organization. Gurza's column was a direct outgrowth of the Times' attempt to reconnect with the Latino community after that debacle.

Members of the delegation to Carroll's office urged restraint.

"Is this the time for us to start canceling Times subscriptions? No," Nogales told the crowd. Instead, he urged everyone to behave as dissatisfied yet loyal Timesreaders—and to enlist as many other people as possible in a pro-Gurza e-mail campaign. "We have 10 days to try to persuade Carroll to change his mind," Nogales explained. "If we don't like his answer, then we can start talking about canceling subscriptions."

The bookstore gathering's star guest was Gurza himself.

"I feel a little like somebody who was allowed to go to his own funeral," he observed, to riotous laughter from the crowd. "I feel almost embarrassed that so many of you would come out in support of my column."

Gurza said he has already received roughly 100 e-mails from Times readers expressing regret over the loss of his column. "The majority of these people were not Latinos," he said. "They were people who really wanted to learn more about the Latino community. . . . No matter what happens to me, I hope you people keep pushing for that kind of coverage."

According to Gurza, Times officials told him they felt his column was "running out of steam and needed to be phased out," a viewpoint the columnist did not share. "I felt that it would run out steam when the [Latino] community ran out of steam," he gently countered. "That hasn't happened yet."

While Gurza acknowledged that he wasn't happy about losing his column, he said the Times had shown him unprecedented courtesy in steering him to a new job at the paper. He expressed confidence that his new post—Latino music and arts criticism—will be as challenging as his old gig.

If the loose coalition proves successful when it comes to hire/fire decisions regarding local newspaper columnists, maybe they can set their sights next on getting The Orange County Register to spike Gordon Dillow's column.

 
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