Naturally I’m glad that my old friend and former Buzz mag colleague Jill Stewart has been hired as deputy editor in charge of news at the New Times-owned L.A.Weekly. Jill’s been freelancing since New Times closed its L.A. paper, where she was on staff for six years, in 2002, and while I enjoy her self-syndicated column about California state politics, I’d like to see her be able to completely concentrate on muckraking rather than worry about making a living as a hand-to-mouth freelancer.

The icing on the cake, of course, is that Jill’s arrival at the Weekly has been putting the knickers of all the old L.A. media paleolefties in quite a large knot. You’d think that the feminist establishment, who regularly groan so loudly that there aren’t enough women in the upper echelons of media jobs, might have expressed some happiness about a women journalist’s ascension to a top spot in this cost-cutting age. But the the silence from the Sisterhood, I’m sorry to say, has been uninterrupted.

Instead we’re getting all the predictable moans and groans about how shockingly conservative Jill is, and how terrible this is for a progressive media institution like the Weekly. I’d say it’s a sad sign of how parochial L.A. media is that she’s considered shockingly conservative, because Jill’s always described herself as a radical centrist and that seems much closer to the truth.

For her part, Jill commented on my blog that “it’s another mark of the low level of journalism we often see in L.A., that people who do not really pay close attention to politics think that skewering a party’s leadership means you ‘don’t like Democrats.’ Will this town ever grow up?”

Being just a hair or two right of center typically gets you called an ultra-conservative wingnut here in L.A., which of course is just ridiculous. Jill’s critics complain that she lacks integrity and singles out liberal women and minority office-holders for her attack columns. But avoiding criticism of women and minority office-holders’ would be rather difficult in a column about California state politics. (Now if Jill were writing a column about, say, Utah state politics, and picked out women and minorities to attack, her critics would have a point.)

It’s true she doesn’t toe the party line, and is quite opinionated, but I’d say that’s kind of a neccessary trait in a columnist. The notion that she’s lacks integrity is just ridiculous. The only example I’ve ever seen of that was the extremely lame accusation (on my blog), by freelance L.A. Weekly film critic David Ehrenstein that “she bothered a very close friend of mine… with constant phone calls. She was looking for someone to denounce magnet schools.” But as another of my commenters responded, “so Jill Stewart was overly aggressive in trying to get a source? That’s hardly a crime.”

Former Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll tacitly called Jill a “pseudojournalist” in the wake of the 2003 recall election, although he delicately left her name unmentioned, like Voldemort’s. As I wrote then for National Review Online:

“Obviously, Stewart still sticks in Carroll’s craw, but unlike Bill O’Reilly, she isn’t big enough for the Times chief to bother coughing up her identity for readers. Instead he chews over it secretively, like a dog hoarding a bone still being picked….”

“[Carroll] does grudgingly acknowledge that in this country journalism is open to all: ‘It is the constitutional right of every citizen, no matter how ignorant or how depraved, to be a journalist.’ And we’re depraved, Carroll apparently thinks, on account of the fact that we’re deprived…of the five Pulitzers the Times just won, for one thing, but also of the awareness that the reader (or listener, or viewer) is ‘a master to be served.'”

“Gee, Officer Krupke, tell us more. Like how, for instance, the Times reader is served by mysterious, information-withholding descriptions such as this: ‘The worst of the fictions originated with a freelance columnist in Los Angeles who claimed to have the inside story on unethical behavior at the Times.’ Or this: ‘Instead of being ignored, the author of the column was booked for repeated appearances on O’Reilly, on MSNBC, and even on the generally trustworthy CNN.’

“Well, who is she – this damned, infernal freelance columnist who managed to hoodwink even the generally trustworthy CNN? … although it’s convenient for the Times to dismiss [Jill] merely as a freelancer, her weekly column does appear in (real? pseudo?) papers like the San Francisco Chronicle, the Orange County Register, and the L.A. Daily News, among others…”

Then I had to laugh at Kevin Roderick’s noting, on his very popular L.A. Observed site last week, that Jill is “more ideological” than many at the Weekly. That’s a pretty funny observation, because of course she’s not actually more ideological than that hothouse of true believers. She just doesn’t subscribe to their particular ideology.

As veteran P.R. man John Stodder wrote on his blog recently:

“What has always made Jill Stewart stand out to me – going back to when I first met her as an L.A. Times reporter – was her lack of an agenda. Yes, Jill Stewart had a distinct temperament – part populist firebrand, part smirking brat – that comes out in her writing. But there is no political movement or philosophy that she’s so attached to that she would shade her reporting to suit it. That’s more than you can say about her critics.”

People who know Jill – even if they’re reflexive lefties like New Times film critic Luke Y. Thompson, who disagrees with her politics but likes her as a person – think all the panicky criticism about here from the true believers at the Weekly is ridiculous. Thompson wrote on his blog the other day that Jill’s “rap as some kind of arch-conservative… is patently untrue.”

When the Phoenix-based New Times chain merged (and, for all practical purposes, took over) Village Voice Media last year, I wrote in National Review Online that the New Times papers are often called “neocon,” which is obviously bizarre but the label has stuck:

“There ‘s really no reason for befuddled paleoleftists to paint New Times with the neocon brush except that Jill Stewart, the L.A. paper’s star columnist from 1997 to 2002, was fiercely against bilingual education and incompetent school administrators, and in favor of making even low-income minority kids learn how to actually read and do math. For this, she was considered by the knee-jerk left reactionary, mean-spirited and therefore, I suppose, neocon – a word whose definition has now expanded to mean “anyone to the right of us.”

“Her New Times column constantly attacked the agenda-driven California assembly member Jackie Goldberg (then an agenda-driven L.A. City Council member), which seems to have sent the neocon/j’accuse set into a tizzy. But plenty of people who consider themselves liberal agree with Jill about her ideas on education. And many of my liberal neighbors here in the reflexively liberal Silver Lake still resent Jackie Goldberg for being soft on civil disorder. True believers at the Weekly, however, remain fans of Jackie.”

Lacey was predictably angry at the response to Jill’s hiring, writing L.A Observed that the attitude of ex-L.A. Weekly subeditor Harold Meyerson (and also L.A. Observed’s Kevin Roderick, a loyal ex-L.A. Timesman) undermine journalism “in favor of cronyism” and “while understandable are simply silly.”

Lacey seemed particularly annoyed at Roderick’s speculation that his hiring of Jill (over the head of Weekly editor-in-chief Laurie Ochoa) “makes you wonder about Ochoa’s authority.” I think there Roderick actually may have had a point, but Lacey thought it was “the sort of conspiratorial brilliance I’d expect from someone pushing a shopping cart loaded with all their worldly possessions.”

I wouldn’t go that far. But Roderick’s rather stuffy disapproval of Jill inspired Moxie, a blogger and friend of mine and Jill’s, to notice a striking resemblance between Roderick and Karl Rove.

For her part, a beleagured sounding Ochoa went on Warren Olney’s KCRW radio show “Which Way L.A.?” last week to address all this. “[Jill] does not have a reputation for being particularly liberal,” said Olney, to which Ochoa pointed out sensibly that “the whole political landscape of L.A. has changed.” Then Kevin Roderick – also a “Which Way L.A.?” guest that evening – noted that Jill has been criticized by ex-L.A. Times editor John Carroll, one of “the leading lights of journalism.”

Right. Meanwhile, the circulation of mainstream media led by the leading lights of journalism continues to shrink, while alt-weeklies like New Times go from strength to strength. Younger people may have turned away from daily newspapers, but they’re pretty devoted to free weeklies, with their useful events listings and opinionated local coverage that counters the received wisdom found at the monolithic local daily.

Being a daily newspaper reader takes work as well as money; the standard complaint is “it just piles up.” But alternative weeklies are conveniently there, free for the taking, anytime you have a little spare time – at the gym, or the coffee house, or the bookstore-café, or the cleaners while they look for your shirts. You almost can’t not read them.