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Cathy Seipp, RIP

Cathyseippphoto Since Cathy Seipp was the freelancers' patron saint of recycling useful personal anecdotes, I'll rehash the following, about how I first met one of L.A.'s most important and entertaining journalists, who finally died at age 49 this afternoon after beating the odds on lung cancer for more than five years.

In the spring of 2001, a few friends and I launched an acidic little media/politics/sports blog called L.A. Examiner. Think an early-aughts version of L.A. Observed, except much less diligent, and much more openly gleeful in calling people idiots. Anyway, as a sort of journalism experiment, we refused to tell anybody about the site, even while adding permanent links to absolutely every journalism institution and practitioner in town. The idea was to see how long it took local media reporters to notice a possibly interesting phenomenon in their own backyard, and/or see who was quickest on the ego-surf draw. Needless to say, Cathy Seipp beat them all on both counts, e-mailing us a "who are you?" note within hours.

That's how she worked -- converting her own personal quirks (and admitted flaws) into useful fact-gathering, fodder for her shrewd observations and razor wit. In our case, her introduction to the world of political weblogs led directly to her writing a terrific American Journalism Review piece on the phenomenon a year later, in which she declared -- correctly -- that "Los Angeles seems to be the capital of blogging."

That conclusion points to one grand subtext of her body of work: Insisting that Southern California was a font of both interesting stories and worthy storytellers, and turning that into a self-fulfilling prophecy using two distinct methods -- busting her fellow L.A. journalists for being boring, mediocre or undeservedly self-impressed; and (much less appreciated by the targets of her criticism, yet much more appreciated by her wide circle of friends) consciously building a community of disparate and politically diverse writers.

It's the former that initially made her reputation, specifically her wicked criticism of the L.A. Times for Buzz magazine in the 1990s. There are people who work in my office whose first reaction (until recently) upon even hearing the word Seipp was to seize up, like an electrocuted cat. As a productive freelancer and scrapping single mother she had nothing but scorn for the whinings of well-fed lifers at the dominant journalistic institution in town.

And this wasn't the hissing of a spurned lover -- as this exhaustive Luke Ford profile/interview documents, she did some of her first work for the Times way back when. More recently she was a welcome presence on the paper's Op-Ed page, though certainly she had no intention of flattering the host.

Like the few media critics who are ever worth reading (A.J. Liebling, Jack Shafer nowadays), Cathy was always rooting for newspapers and magazines and websites to be good, and expressed tangible delight when they rose to the occasion. She even enjoyed it when the journalistic divas she so loved to needle, such as former Times firebrand Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez (famous for her all-guns-firing exit memo from the paper), staged a comeback. Here's a section on AVR that captures Cathy's criticism style:

"But, rattle-headed as this gassy manifesto was, at no point was it boring. Valdes-Rodriguez may be a world-class overreactor, but she always had talent, and Dirty Girls is a fine example of page-turning women's popular fiction. [...] I am sorry to say that I have heard from a few journalists expressing bitterness at Valdes-Rodriguez's improbable rise after her fantastic fall. [...] [W]hat is it with journalists, of all people, who can't appreciate a great story when they hear it?"

For the best illustration of what kind of community this stay-at-home mom built around herself, both in L.A. and across the globe, just click this link. The people you'll find there, like her friends, didn't necessarily agree with her politics, don't necessarily appreciate her Silver Lake milieu, and probably thought she went too far when criticizing people (Cathy had an enormous talent for tiptoeing up to the line of polite-society mores, then vaulting across it with a cackle). But they enjoyed her careful and funny prose, straight-talking pluck, and the way she comported herself under the most trying circumstances.

To recycle a sentiment one last time, Cathy was uncommonly generous with help (for instance, always getting on her fellow freelancers about not having health insurance), enthusiastic about getting out and meeting people, and not the least bit cynical, a rarity in journalism. And by demanding that her peers -- including her close friends -- do better, she improved what you read, whether you knew it or not.

L.A.'s a big place, filled with great talent, but it will never replace Cathy Seipp. RIP.


Comments () | Archives (12)

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Jim Treacher

LA is the capital of bloggers who think LA is the capital of blogging. Other than that, I couldn't agree more. She was very lucky to have friends like you, Matt. God bless Cathy and Maia.



Mitchell Young

Cathy Seipp had a palpable dislike of the people she grew up with, the largely white, largely working class folks of 1960s and 70s north Orange County. People that worshipped at places with names like "Church of the Nazarene" and "Crystal Cathedral".

As a son of the 'floodplain' myself (Garden Grove for my elementary school years), I thought she failed to appreciate that unique culture -- her time was before Agent Orange or the Cuckoo's Nest or the Rodney Bingenheimer Beach Blvd. album so perhaps she can be forgiven that bit of myopia. Despite her dislike, I think she carried with her a lot of the attitude of the working and middle class people -- whether members of some Evangelical Sect or Catholic or Jewish, that inhabited that place in those decades. Indeed Susan Estrich makes that point in her obit. So I think we can put Seipp up there as another great product from behind the Orange Curtain. Requisat in Pacem.

Jason S.

I will miss her. Condolences to her family and friends.

Tim McGarry

It's a sad day. I was more critic than fan (and don't think Cathy would appreciate my pretending otherwise), but found it impossible not to admire her talent as a writer and her honesty and integrity.

I never met her, but the outpouring of love and support from her friends speaks very clearly about the kind of person she must have been.

The writings that moved me most were the ones focused on her daughter, Maia. Clearly Cathy loved her daughter deeply and was fiercely proud of her. I'll miss being able to follow their story.

Bill Peschel

She needs an anthology of her work published. She deserves it.

Bradley J Fikes

I second Bill's suggestion about the anthology. Include not only Cathy's articles and blog postings, but some of the more notable exchanges that took place on her blog -- there's a rich mine of humor as well as the sadness at the end. And the scripts of her roasters last September should definitely be in there, like this one from Amy Alkon.

Jeff Simmermon

I'd _love_ to read an anthology of her work, and wish I weren't learning about Cathy posthumously.

bg mendell

"as a scrapping single mother..."
---off topic (or not)---
for every scrapping single mother is not there a scrapping (or not) single father? (it is Tea for Two--save sections of Palm Springs, San Francisco and West Hollywood). The scrapping single mother had custody of
the child(ren) while the scrapping single father had a gun to his head to deliver child(ren) support payments on cue (or else); and then maybe, he could have visitation rights every two weekends and for two months during the summer (sounds like the national guard to me/heaven help him
if he were to go AWOL).
I did not know this lady (and no, I do not have child(ren)--they figured out what causes them...it was in "Popular Mechanics" and a couple of issues of "Handguns and Hard Liquor"). She probably was a nice person (and a scrapping single mother). One question: does the scrapping (or not) single father now have custody of her/his child(ren)?
Just chew on this piece of gristle the next time you see the term
"single parent" (mother/father--needed to save space); there's a story to
be written (maybe 800 words?) about the other half of this equation.
Okay, now we can return to our story.....

Mike D

I'm sorry to hear about this loss. Scientists at UC Berkeley have recently made some major gains in cancer research however. They have demonstrated that a compound in Broccoli called Diindolylmethane (DIM) has potent immune modulating and anti-cancer properties. DIM is currently available as a dietary supplement over the counter. This compound has very potent anti-cancer properties against multiple cancer lines, including breast, prostate, colon and lung--the one responsible for Cathy's illness.

A lot of Los Angelinos may very well come down with the same illness as according to the American Lung Association, Los Angeles currently has the poorest and most polluted air quality in the entire country. We even beat Detroit, Michigan, the former world-wide capital of pollution, to capture the number 1 slot. This does not bode well for our lungs in this city.

Angelinos should start driving hybrids and eat more broccoli or look into supplements with DIM. This is a very important discovery.

Wisihing all health and wellness.




Amy Alkon

Cathy, we all miss you.





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