Slab City Journal: A Big Man in Alternative Journalism Now Living Off the Grid
Woodrow Tom Thompson was once a big player in the LA news scene . He began
in Yuma, Arizona at KBLU, doing sports radio and TV. After a stint at CBS station KOOL in Phoenix, he reinvented himself with a career in print journalism as news editor for the LA Free Press, one of the nation’s original alternative weeklies.
Penny Grenoble was editor and Charles Bukowski wrote dirty stories. Ron Cobb did cartoons. Tom was a very big man then. He weighed almost four hundred pounds and he covered some very big stories. Not the way the LA Times did. He often got inside info from the people who knew what was going on. Phil Ochs would show up. So would the FBI.
He was a great teacher. All news editors should be like Tom Thompson . He knew how to make a story jump off the front page like a snake. “Who is, or was, Ms. Moon Solstice?” “How did the LAPD Operate its Secret Red Squad?” Tom pushed stories--essential LA Stories the LA Times would never touch. He went behind the news to chase a story. How come the LA County Art Museum bought only certain painters and did not buy others? Could board members be on the take? The Pasadena Chandlers didn’t want to handle stories like that.
As news editor Tom Thompson, a former football player for Temple U., and for one season on a semi-pro league, the Festerville Falcons, weighed in with two smashing fists. Even the publishers of the Freep, as it was known to readers, disliked his pushing the LAPD around. And the IRS.
When the Freep’s owners sold out, and the new publisher changed the format to Star Wars and porn stories, Thompson split and called together a group of former Freep writers and proposed the idea of a collectively run successor alternative paper. Thus was the LA Vanguard born. The new paper, with Tom as ME, Dave Lindorff and Ron Ridenour as editor/reporters, and myself as arts editor, published a manifesto from the Weather Underground. Tom encouraged us to take on the entire US Government by publishing pieces on the phony Warren Commission investigation and cover-up of the JFK hit.
All along the way, at both the Freep and the Vanguard, Tom encouraged reporters to go beyond the WHO, WHAT,WHERE and WHEN and HOW into the essential WHY. And to ask WHO are the real bad guys?