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Shake-Ups and Breakups

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Michael Kinsley has gotten the boot from the job of editorial page editor for the Los Angeles Times. You can find out more from the New York Times and the LA Times's own rather ambiguous coverage (it has also published the text of Kinsley's kiss-off letter.

The whole situation seems a classic example of an institution that feels itself to be proud but perhaps a bit stodgy hiring someone to "shake things up" and then promptly getting rattled and jittery by the shaking. For a newspaper that must be worried about competition from web sites and cable news, someone with Kinsley's résumé as founding editor of Slate and former co-host of now-defunct (thanks to Jon Stewart's "you're hurting America!" tirade) Crossfire must have looked like he might help the paper advance in those areas. The thing is, Slate and much of Kinsley's other work consists of commentary-on-the-commentary and snark. Now, this sort of thing can be very entertaining, and some of its practicioners move into the mainstream smoothly as they get older, but many of the editorials Kinsley published were contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, or all over the map (in terms of point of view and international coverage) and his web ventures for the Times failed. Now they've replaced him with a former New York Times man who promises much more local coverage, and to have events in town at places like the downtown library. We'd be sadder if we really thought that Kinsely had done a terrific job, but to be honest, his coverage didn't change much in the city or the world. What it does seem to have done is to change the Los Angeles Times's mindset, from feeling that focusing on the city itself and being the stodgy big paper was a liability, to going back to embracing these roles. For there to be contrarians, someone's got to be the mainstream.