L.A. Weekly wrote that they left many messages to reach him. The Los
Angeles Times tried for an interview. When master chef Kazunomi
Nozawa was closing up his sushi shop, no one could seem to get an interview.
But one morning I walked in to the iconic Studio City shop with the seemingly short-tempered chef known in the neighborhood as the “Sushi Nazi.” He scowled at me with knife in hand and said, “Where is the tall guy? You still together?” Nozawa gave me an interview, and even let me take pictures and video him.
My partner John and I had been coming to his place since he first opened. On my way out, Channel 2 cameras were at the window and he waved them away, shouting, “I already talked to HIM! Go away!” No interview for you. (http://studiocity.patch.com/groups/business-news/p/sushi-nazi-says-sayonara-to-studio-city)
When I first got the job in June 2010 to open the Studio City Patch, it seemed very similar to my very first professional job in 1978 as the editor of the The Dunedin Times and Scottish Shopper right out of high school at 18 in Florida. It was community journalism all over again.
So much is happening in this wonderfully quirky part of the San Fernando Valley where I first got an apartment on Arch Drive in 1985. The Daily News wasn’t covering Studio City very much, the Los Angeles Times never really did, and even with two TV stations and vibrant radio stations based in Studio City, a lot of the local stories were never being told.
The wonderful idea of community journalism with someone embedded and vested in his or her neighborhood was an obvious and simple idea for AOL. But now, the company made the baffling decision to lay-off the very people who created those Patches—and so, this is my last entry as your Studio City Patch editor.
Brian Farnham and Tim Armstrong came up with the idea of Patch when they couldn’t find anything local to do with their families on weekends. When Brian and I were interviewed on a radio talk show locally on KPFK, I talked about my extensive coverage of a beloved 82-year-old principal at a local elementary school who was being forced to retire.
“It may not be a big deal for the rest of the world, but for 250 families losing Mr. Klein is the most important thing going on in their lives right now,” I said in the interview. Brian—who left Patch a year ago—told me that my comments made him tear up and that I was a great spokesperson for what Patch was all about.
I was also interviewed with Tim Armstrong for an article we feared would be a “hit piece” about Patch; but it came across well, and he high-fived me in person about it the next week in San Francisco during an all-Patch pow-wow. Now, he’s the one credited with making all the recent lay-off decisions, because of Wall Street pressures. He never responded to any of my emails since I found out I was on the list to leave.
What’s most important is this community, my community. You, the people who make up this wonderfully diverse and activist crowd.
My Writers Were the Best. I had among the most active and diverse group of bloggers in the country—more than 280 original writers for the site. Everyone from Dr. Shira Miller writing about male menopause and transgendered writer Marie Fairman to Irene Lyle’s hysterical musings about plastic surgery and the award-winning Paranormal EXP team discussing their ghost hunting.
Kelly Cole made national news blogging about a gay hook-up ad on a billboard near her son’s school, Jack McGrath answered questions about local history, Joe Goodman talked about the music industry, Alan Taylor wrote about local crime, Ilona Saari wrote about issues on her street and threw in recipes every once in a while.
I’m not going to mention everyone, I’ll forget someone, and you all know how important you were to me.
Irene DeBlasio, who went through some of the toughest parts of her life with the loss of her daughter, and caring for her ailing husband, was dubbed our “Studio City Den Mom.” She not only wrote poems about Patch (and me), but corrected me when I was wrong, and supported me when I needed an ear.
I developed and encouraged columnists who were featured regularly on Patch. Karen Young, who initially wanted this job and founded MyDailyFind.com, is an amazing journalist in her own right and we could have been arch rivals, but instead we teamed up and she wrote many columns showing her insight into the businesses and restaurants along Ventura Boulevard. She is my mentor, and has helped me in countless ways.
I cultivated some of my students from UCLA journalism classes and watched them thrive, such as AnnMarie Baranik who covered cops, Kelly Glover who does the Big Curvy Love blog, Linda Rubin who covered Faith & Charity issues (shooting some incredible video stories, too), Danrochelle Yumul who wrote about being pregnant and going to Caioti Pizza (among other things) and many more.
I was honored to have Lisa Sarkin answering questions on the site for a few years, as well as Paul Krekorian, and contributions from actor/activist Mike Farrell, and Ed Begley Jr. doing an environmental check-in and opening up his home to us multiple times.
We have watched many locals thrive and be successful, such as Johnny Ortez-Tibbels and his Wiener Dog Wednesday column launching the D.O.G.S. charity on Patch (http://rufusontheweb.com), and Piper Reese getting on TV (http://piperspicks.tv), Renny Darling publishing another cookbook (http://rennydarling.com) and Mary McGrath is being published after writing about her family life for years on Patch. James Cullen Bressack became a horror movie filmmaker and wrote about it on Patch (and even credited me in one of his movies). Birgit Keil shared her wonderful cartoons (http://justbeacartoon.com/). Eva-Marie Frederic even made a whole series of short movies and won awards (see the delightful Shorty & Morty: http://shortyandmorty.com/)
Also look for an upcoming book about Heidi the dog and Diane Haithman from their “A Paw in the Door” columns on Patch (and see Diane’s upcoming book: www.dianehaithman.com). (See a photo of Heidi and me in the gallery above.) Diane's husband, Alan Feldstein, took us on exciting adventures to Africa with his amazing column and photos. A former advertiser, Alan's Infinite Safari Adventures is based in Studio City, and he takes families to Africa! (http://infinitesafariadventures.com/) Sign up for all of their websites and newsletters as they continue on beyond Patch.
I can never thank the amazingly talented writers who joined up at my coaxing on the site to write regular columns. We had Pet Peeves from Don Helverson, a teacher at Walter Reed Middle School; Marla Hart’s Garden Clippings (and some great history pieces from her husband Hugh Hart); Cathy Flynn, you deserve a book yourself, you are a great writer; Debra Grath’s beautiful stories about being Single in Studio City (and her breaking stories about the Los Angeles River); Rita Runyon’s history and movie trivia about the stars along Ventura Boulevard; edgy interviews from CBS Studios stars by Fred Topel and great pieces by Nicole Kristal and broadcast giant Doug Kriegel, whom I convinced to take on the Sherman Oaks Patch for a time.
And then we all witnessed the blossoming of Studio City Mom, Susan McMartin, right before our very eyes. She was a PTA friend who suddenly found herself out of work, and I convinced her from Day One to write about herself and her struggles as a screenwriter and now she is in one of the most enviable jobs in the entertainment industry writing for “Two-and-a-Half Men” and an upcoming major motion picture. We watched her discuss issues with substance abuse, her real-time divorce and the growing up of her little girl, as well as the tragic mauling of her dachshund Wendell while walking in a local park, and how she resorted to stealing from her daughter’s piggy bank for gas money. She opened herself up to ridicule, as well as intense love, from strangers all over and now has a major fan following (go to http://susanmcmartin.com and sign up right now!) She continues to inspire countless people (especially me.)
All of you came on board because of my urging and coaxing, and hand-holding. Management expects that this site will continue on with you all contributing as you have done. But, there was someone cheering you on along the way.
And yes, I was a cheerleader for you and our community, even though some of you didn’t like the stories I did. Of course I wanted our local gal Wendy Greuel to become mayor; of course I wanted to find out why that guy had moving billboards calling Paul Krekorian a monkey; and of course I had to cover the tragedies of the slaying of Cheree Osmanhodzic, the dognapping and death of Maru, and the gunning down of Zac Champommier in our local parking lot behind Chipotle.
I Have the Best Community. I am so impressed with our Studio City Neighborhood Council. Sure, I’ve covered their bickering and craziness, but what they get done, and what they have accomplished (for free I may add), is simply astounding. This group is a model for the entire country, taking groundbreaking actions and showing cooperative spirit with such a diversity of opinions and backgrounds. I’ve admired them all, past and present and the community should pay more attention to what they’re doing. I am so honored by the presentation they and Krekorian’s office bestowed on me for my work covering the community. (Although I am sad that I made Marilyn White-Sedel the most hated woman in America for a week when I wrote about her tearing down “Lost Cat” signs.)
When I can tell a local story that surprises John Walker, the council president; or write about a local fact that vice president Lisa Sarkin never heard; or tell a story about someone that Alan and Beth Dymond doesn’t already know (from the Studio City Residents Association and Beautification Board), then I know I’ve done my job. And sometimes I was able to do it. The activists on the Studio City Improvement Association, Chamber of Commerce and many other community groups have become friends and family.
I’ve covered your babies being born, I’ve covered your parents passing away.
Sure, any journalist worth his salt should be able to swoop in and be able to cover a story, but it takes more than that to cover a community. I was the first reporter on the scene to the doors of Carpenter Community Charter when the school was in lockdown, and walked with police when searching Fryman Canyon for a murderer, and got a late-night phone call from police when Maru’s body was found.
Sure, it’s easy to Google where the Brady Bunch House is, but you can’t Google where Tom Cruise lived off Ventura Boulevard just before he landed “Top Gun” or where Harrison Ford lived when he told neighbors about auditioning for “Star Wars.” That all comes with being a neighbor, and living in the area. (See: Bruce Willis Makes a Stop, Gwen Stefani Loves to Shop; Leg Injury Stops Bill Nye, Mr. Studio City Says ‘Buh-bye’ http://studiocity.patch.com/groups/arts-and-entertainment/p/bruce-willis-makes-a-stop-gwen-stefani-loves-to-shop-leg-injury-stops-bill-nye-mr-studio-city-says-buhbye)
I Have the Best Patch. I launched the first Patch in the Los Angeles city limits, and it was met with plenty of skepticism by the politicians, police and schools, but we won them over quickly. I also still believe I had the best community to cover and the best stories to tell than any other Patch out there.
Covering a community is more than covering the opening of a bridge, or the closing of a street, but knowing what businesses are being hurt by that bridge closing, and what neighbors are being harmed by that street closure.
Being embedded with you all helped me break stories: like the families who are illegally enrolling children at Carpenter, or the principal letting you on campus when the shuttle flies over the school; or keeping on top of the story of Henry’s Tacos moving and the new Cactus Tacos family that came in.
(I’m not ready to party yet, but I will be having a party for the whole community soon at the new Star Lite Cantina Sports Bar next to Cactus Tacos, so keep in touch through MikeSzy@aol.com, and sign up for Twitter at MrStudioCity to get an invite!)
It’s wonderful having someone like Claudia Wells know your size so when she finds a jacket you may like she holds it off to the side for you (if you’ve not been to Armani Wells, you must go!) And, when I drop clothes off at Spotless Cleaners, Nader Kashani may mention that Justin Bieber just came in. Or, when I visit Flairs they’ll tell me about a new charity program in the works, or at Elegant Balloons, I learn about the worldwide helium shortage.
You have to be part of the community to know that two new sitcoms shot at your church this season, (and that maybe too many things are getting shot in your neighborhood). You have to be at PINZ to witness a perfect 300 game, or two Sour Apples occurring right next to each other. (http://studiocity.patch.com/groups/around-town/p/miracle-at-the-bowling-alleydouble-sour-apples) You have to witness the student-run talent show at Walter Reed every year to believe it—and see the always-kooky teacher’s finale!
Losing this Patch, I feel perhaps, a little like Ben Affleck, who made an Oscar-winning movie but it wasn’t enough to get nominated as Best Director. Many of the stories I’ve mentioned are no longer on Patch (I’ve stopped holding my breath for when they will come back onto the site.) Remember those great photos of the snow and hail falling in Studio City that you all posted? The new Patch easier-to-use, easier-to-post website technology has never really materialized as promised, and it’s harder to find anything on the site. That’s all unfortunate. I’ve heard that this was one of the communities that wrote the most letters to try to save my job—and I thank you all for that.
What I care most about is you, and your dogs and cats (keep them safe from coyotes!)
I will still be writing about you, and still be telling your stories, just not for Patch. Keep in touch. Keep tipping me off!
Reach me at MikeSzy@aol.com, Like me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mike.szymanski.71
Also see the video that my family and I did for Patch the first holidays after we launched (in the Gallery above.)
I put more into this job than to any other I’ve ever had, and it’s because I really, really cared. My family, my friends, my knowledge, my experience, my secrets, are all within these Patch pages. I never took a sick day off from work, partly because I didn’t want to blame my Multiple Sclerosis for taking time off. Covering my community is truly what keeps me going.
Last week at the Spitting Chicken in Sherman Oaks (where I wrote about Renee Disisto and her Zeppy dog biscuits), I was walking out with Saul Daniels, who started the Chatsworth Patch shortly after I opened mine three years ago. (See his adieu here: http://encino.patch.com/groups/around-town/p/until-we-meet-again--encino) Saul was being unceremoniously booted out, too, and it was our last lunch with our boss. We saw Councilman Tom LaBonge at a table on the way out.
"What is the Patch without you? How can this happen?" he said in his characteristic bombastic voice. How indeed.
On this Last Day at Patch, Irene DeBlasio will post me one last Patch poem, Sally Kirkland said she’d pray for me, Ed Begley Jr. will take me out to a vegan lunch. Many friends said they will be de-Patching their accounts. My chiropractor (Dr. Steve http://www.wellness.com/dir/4002629/chiropractor/ca/valley-village/steve-berglund-capricorn-health-services-dc) will be taking me out to dinner at the Oyster House and then we’ll walk across the street to the Studio City Unitarian Universalist Church to hear a speaker by the UFO & Paranormal Research Society. It will cheer me up. My family, Michele, Dante, Donovan and John will be there for me when I'm feeling down, as will a bunch of dachshunds, two cats and a bearded dragon.
I’ll still be around. I’ll still be in our community. I just won’t be “Mike the Patch guy” anymore.