Former LAist Editor interviews Current LAist Editor on One Year Anniversary of his Tyrannical Reign
interview by Carolyn Kellogg
A year ago Tony Pierce took over the reigns of LAist, and I have to say he's done wonders with the place. It's bigger and shinier and got a gorgeous crowd standing out front (that's you). Will he tell us what it's like behind the LAist editor's curtain? Can we ever really know the man, the blogger, Tony Pierce?
Carolyn Kellogg: Where'd you grow up, Tony?
I was born in Washington DC, we moved to New York about two years later to ditch my newborn sister but she found us somehow, so we tried to ditch her by moving into the suburbs of Chicago a year after that, but she tracked us down again. I spent K-12 in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Very happily. But I dreamed of LA. I was a huge fan of the mid-'70s Dodgers. They all seemed like the coolest, slickest, manly dudes. The polar opposite of my beloved Cubbies. Also the Lakers at the time were amazingly classy. The whole LA mystique had me. And the day after my high school graduation I was here.
Where do you live now?
East Hollywood, baby. Cheaters call it Los Feliz, but since I'm just south of Sunset, LA City Nerd would call it Little Armenia, so that's what I guess I'm at. It's a particularly safe part of LA because the Scientologists are up and about 24/7 so they're like the best Neighborhood Watch ever. No, seriously. They're sorta freaked by strangers at night, and the strangers are definitely freaked by them. That makes for a very safe block.
What was your first place in LA like?
My first apartment was on Innes Street in Venice. When you grow up in the midwest you are probably more appreciative of the beach than anyone in town. I couldn't believe that I could get an apartment just blocks away from the boardwalk for so cheap (back then it was cheap). Little did I know that in the winter once the tourists and cops left the gangs, hookers, drug dealers, and riff raff showed up. I also had serious issues with fleas, cockroaches, and a bad landlord. I soon found myself in West LA, and then later in Inglewood.
When did you start blogging? Was that the Busblog?
Before blogging I had tonypierce.com where for a year I wrote little fake stories and rants and played around with HTML and photoshop. Little did I know that it was preparing me for blogging and... this. In late 2001, specifically right after 9/11 some of my photo essays on my web site started getting some notice and i wanted those viewers to land somewhere after they were done reading the photo essays, so instead of having them land in sorta a lame place like my links page, i had them land on my newly-created blog, the busblog.
So yes, even though I had been writing online for years on my site, and before that on Lick Magazine, and before that on Buzznet, I started blogging per se in August of 2001 because it was obvious that unless it looked like a blog, no one was interested in your shit. Even if it was full screen all color and filled with cool stories. The kids wanted a blog so a blog is what I gave them.
My buddies Matt Welch and Ken Layne had created warblogs, but i created the busblog to show the world that a single man in LA could get laid in this town with no car, just a bus pass and a dream.
Tell us about the typical day of editing LAist. Do you really get to work in your pajamas?
noon-1pm: get it together
1pm: see how many more emails i have to handle
2pm-5pm blog like crazy
5pm-7pm: go outside and eat first meal of the day and wonder why i choose this fucked up hour to go out because the traffic couldnt be worse*
7pm-9pm: blog like crazy
9pm-1am: see bands*
1am-3am: blog like crazy, but schedule them to appear from 9am-noon
3am-5am: catch up on the tv i missed (olbermann, pardon the interruption, daily show)
5am-530am: fall asleep listening to Howard Stern
*not in pajamas
Do Busblog fans miss you?
Yes, and I miss them too. 3/4s of them have left me. A year ago the busblog had a Technorati rank of like 350 and i was seriously trying to think of ways to get it into the top 200. Now it's dropping like a stone and it's at a precarious 731. And all my ads have gone away pretty much.
The busblog is clearly the biggest tragedy of the success of LAist, but at least it's still alive, it would have been very easy to just take it around the side of the shed and put it out of its misery. But that's what lesser bloggers do, not me. I let things suffer and age in the corner as it collects dust.
LAist's readership has grown tremendously since you took over. Can you tell us how much?
I believe it's quadrupled.
Wow! What do you credit to the success?
Without sounding like too much of a brown nose, I gotta give it up to the founders, Jake Dobkin and Jen Chung. They basically gave me total creative and editorial control as long as I was showing growth in the site. Many bosses say that they only care about the bottom line, but I have experienced many who go back on that promise. When Jake and Jen said that this was my baby they meant it.
It's easy to give people freedom when there's nothing at stake, but sometimes success makes people weird and thats when they turn conservative. But Jake and Jen let me go in any direction that I wanted, let me bring on every one that I liked, and were there for me even when I told them I wanted to do things that were very un-LA.
Very Un-LA? Like what?
A few months into this job I realized that I was doing 99% of my work in my apartment via a laptop and cell phone. It occurred to me that I could do it on the road, for example. So I asked Jake and Jen if I could take an "LAist Roadtrip" around the country. I had never driven across the country before. And with the aid of my Verizon EVDO card, laptop and cell phone, I was able to spend 40 days on the road.
Even though some thought it was cool that I was interviewing convenient store workers at 3am in Iowa and Hurricane Katrina survivors in New Orleans, it wasn't about LA, and our hits plummeted that month.
Still when I asked Jake and Jen if they would allow me to go to Austin for SXSW for 10 days in March they were all, no problem, and even let me write some stories for Austinist.
So those things are sorta un-LA activities that they were behind and it helped me rinse my palette of LA for a little bit and made me miss LA and be ready to rock when I got home. Which I did.
What's been the biggest surprise editing LAist?
There have been a lot.
- I never really thought I'd ever experience the Perfect Job.
- I never thought I was capable of producing 1,800 blog posts in one year.
- I never thought that some of the people i respected on the web would be so douchey even once they had found out that what they were doing was dead wrong (this happened more than once this year)
- I always thought Malingering was 400lbs, but she's not. Not that there would be anything wrong with that.
- I never thought how many anonymous negative commentors really think that people would change their style just to appease them.
- I also never realized how many people will not say a word about dozens of great, informative, and funny posts, but if theres a typo or an error they will swoop down and leave the rudest snidest righteous comment ever.
- I never knew how many bloggers or would-be bloggers, despite the snarkiness of a small percentage of readers, would take so quickly to the Group Blog concept, which is very different than a personal blog because you give up a lot of control, but you're able to get read by way more people. I guess the surprise was, I was pleasantly surprised that so many talented people got it and decided to rock it on LAist.
- I never knew how good some bloggers were until I had to focus on thinking about LA daily. I'm talking about people like Mark from Defamer, Mike of Variety and Franklin Ave., my buddies Matt of the LA Times and Ken Layne of Wonkette, and my co-Editor Zach. To be that good and that funny every day is very very hard. Close to impossible. But unless you actually try to do it you have no idea. It's like watching a baseball game compared to being in the box with runners on and some asshole throwing heat on the mound.
- I also never knew much about the LA City Nerd, LA Observed, the Atwater Newbie, Mayor Sam, The Martini Republic, Curbed LA, The Taco Hunt, Green LA Girl, the Foothills Cities blog(gers?) or Zuma Dogg before and I am very happy to know that they're here with us. I also have a much deeper respect for Boing Boing.
- I was also surprised that blogging.la didn't hire you to defeat me.
What LAist scoop/post/series are you the most proud of?
I like it when we do things as a group. So I thought our Coachella coverage was better than anyone's, anywhere, we had 35 stories about it from Feb-April. We had 27 SXSW stories in two months and some of the best video interviews and coverage of anyone - hell we even got an LA band a gig to play SXSW. And just last week we live blogged the MTV Movie Awards with 10 posts including a killer photo essay from the red carpet, all within 3 hours.
What other LA blog's scoop/post/series do you admire?
who didn't love blogging.la's 25 Greatest Fictional Angelenos?
If you could have any other job in LA – Mayor, head of the MPAA, lead singer of Poison – which job would you pick, and why?
The problem with politics is you have to run for office. If I could be Mayor, like just wake up and the cameras were out front and they were all, "dude Mayor Tony got shot and they need a new Mayor Tony and he said he always liked you," then this is what I would do...
I would put an all-out ban on new houses and buildings until our current fucked up traffic problems were seriously fixed. How on Earth can we all sit and cheer the redevelopment of downtown when the 10 freeway after 2pm is fucked and the 110 is always insane? Great, we're building all these towers and skyscrapers, and enticing yuppies to buy lofts downtown, but what are tens of thousands of more cars on the 10 and 110 going to do to that part of town?
Is the 110/10 interchange jealous of the 101/405?
So, no, you don't get new toys until you've put away your old toys. You don't get more people, more cars, more shit, unless you know how to move around the people you have. If I was mayor right now I'd hold all those new buildings hostage until we had some serious subway development. You want a building, help with traffic. There should be talk about less housing in LA north of the 10, not more. Build in South Central if you wanna be a freaking hero.
But the only other job I can imagine being more perfectly suited than this one would be Playboy Mansion blogger. I believe there's room in that place for one guy who would blog every day about what's happening at the mansion from the mansion. And yes there would be photos.
Favorite LA band? Book? Movie? Restaurant? Beach? Place to blog?
Band: Tsar, still. Even though they hate their fans.
Book: Charles Bukowski, "Notes of a Dirty Old Man"
Movie: Last year, Little Miss Sunshine, this year nothing has struck my fancy. I'm thinking about starting an LAist Movie Club where we all see a movie on every other Friday night or something. Being that this is the movie capital and all.
What would you like for your anniversary present?
- three new writers who say all they want to do is cover local politics twice a week
- two people who say they want to be copy editors
- two new writers who say all they wanna do is cover the val
- and for the democrats to grow some balls and impeach somebody
top photo by Joanne Pierce