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Saturday, Jun 3, 2023

A Life (Still) Worth Living

I’ll never forget the day. It was in 2000 and I had been working at the Los Angeles Business Journal for about six months when I heard the news: Mark Lacter was returning as editor after a short stint as a writer at the Los Angeles bureau of Forbes magazine. It was literally frightening. Everyone in my circle knew about Mark, a former business editor of the Los Angeles Daily News who had come to the LABJ in 1995 and turned it around, winning it a boatload of awards and respect. But the word was, it wasn’t pleasant. In fact, the word I heard most often was “taskmaster.” And at their most charitable, many reporters who had worked under him would say, “He was tough, but he made you better.” Over the next five years, I would certainly come to agree with the first assessment and some of the second. He was indeed a taskmaster and he was indeed tough, and he made you better. But all that was too harsh and it implied too little. Perhaps it was Mark’s demeanor. Gruff was certainly an apt adjective. And to be honest it took me years – and only perhaps when I became an editor myself – to understand what made him tick. Sure, he could smile here and there, and joke now and then, but most of the time, Mark was a serious guy. And he took his job very seriously, treating it as a sacred duty. He liked to remind reporters that it wasn’t good enough to write a penetrating story one week. The mark of a true journalist, he said, was doing it day after day, week after week. Mark and I got along just fine. In fact, I flourished under Mark, writing many of the longer pieces in the paper and eventually being promoted to assistant managing editor. Finally, in 2005, Mark left the paper after a decade that was only interrupted by his stint at Forbes. During that time he also found time to start the San Fernando Valley Business Journal, which he edited for two years before hiring someone full-time to run the paper. He went on to found the L.A. Biz Observed blog, could be heard on radio opining on the business issues of the day and wrote freelance pieces in Los Angeles Magazine and other publications. To say it was a shock to hear that Mark died of a stroke on Nov. 13 is an understatement. We had gotten together a few times over the years since he left the paper and he seemed to have mellowed a bit – but he was still very much himself. In the last few months, we had talked about getting together for a breakfast or lunch, since I had not seen him since being appointed editor of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal a year ago. We traded a few emails, but that get-together never happened. In some ways, Mark’s death affected me more than my father’s. My dad passed away suddenly at 74 from a heart attack, but he had been ill and deep down I knew it was coming. Mark collapsed in the small Westside office he kept and died later at UCLA Medical Center. He didn’t like working at home. Perhaps it was his age, 59; he was not that much older than me. But I know it also was the suddenness. Mark didn’t have a staff, but from what I understand he went into that office day after day to ply his craft, until one day it just all stopped. On the L.A. Observed website there are numerous plaudits and other comments from those who knew Mark, but I couldn’t help notice that he only merited a few inches in the obituary section of the L.A. Times, far less than some other people who I consider less worthy. I suppose that’s the fate of the vast majority of journalists, those of us who don’t write books or create art. Our life’s work is tied so much to the present that when we are gone we are barely remembered. It’s something that first struck me when I saw how little coverage was given to the great Mike Wallace when he died at 93 in his Connecticut home. We come in, day after day after day, and just try to do our job, hoping that someone will read the stories we write, and in some way find them valuable, bringing some illumination to the world. After all, that’s all we know how to do. Like I said, it took me years to find out what made Mark tick. But I understand it now. Laurence Darmiento is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at editor@sfvbj.com.

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