A Woman’s Voice

Since 1987, Bill Rosendahl has been airing significant public affairs programs on Adelphia cable.

This week he told me he rarely sends cameras out in the community for tapings. Adelphia is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and Rosendahl’s former bosses back East are under indictment for various forms of corporate fraud. The situation has left the broadcaster facing an uncertain future and Rosendahl challenged for cameraman cash.

The issue came up at a media roundtable discussion at the Islamic Center of Southern California in which Rosendahl and I took part Tuesday morning. About two dozen mostly young, articulate local Muslim Americans voiced their frustration with media outlets that they feel refuse to present stories that reflect moderate Islamic voices. As if to help them make their point, a local CBS-TV cameraman did show up, but turned off his equipment halfway through, then left.

Rosendahl said he would have wanted to tape the discussion and air it, but he simply must be frugal with what resources he has. In years past, Rosendahl has tirelessly provided coverage of local news and, through shows like “God Squad,” “Local Talk,” “Beyond the Beltway” and “Orange County Perspective,” a rare broadcasting platform for a wide variety of community voices. These programs reach some 2 million homes.

Now, while teams of local commercial news crews spend hours covering every Winona Ryder court date, Rosendahl is hoping to find a few good Angelenos willing to sponsor programs to help create an informed citizenry.

The problem with Adelphia may only be a few bad apples. But the deeper problem with our broadcast media stems from a combination of the aftereffects of Reagan-era deregulation and the subsequent abandonment of any meaningful public programming requirement. The even deeper problem, of course, may be our own: we demand so little of those who profit from public airwaves, and we get what we ask for.

Thinking about such things takes on deeper poignancy this week with the passing of two people who were committed, absolutely committed, toward serving their community.

One was Ira Yellin, a visionary who sought to revitalize downtown Los Angeles and, through development and philanthropy, more than fulfilled what he he once told me was his sense of “an obligation to give back” (see obituaries page 56).

The other, of course, was Marlene Adler Marks, our senior columnist who passed away on Sept. 5.

In her weekly column for this paper — which she started writing in 1987 — Marlene dissected local politics and local politicians with insight, wit and a sense of high moral purpose. Any line you draw from I.F. Stone and Murray Kempton to national columnists like Molly Ivins and Maureen Dowd to local columnists like Patt Morrison and Steve Lopez would have to pass through the collected works of Marlene Adler Marks.

Her column became part of this paper’s identity and its import, though I always thought it was misnamed. “A Woman’s Voice” seemed too limiting for words that often spoke to and for so many of us.

Marlene was not only a superlative writer. She was a loyal, challenging friend, a mentor to many of us here at the paper, a deeply loving mother.

She brought all her many qualities to bear in her fight against cancer, and her columns about that struggle are a legacy in themselves.

Marlene’s funeral reflected her life: hundreds of friends and admirers, important politicians, more than a minyan of rabbis — from a man in a black hat to a woman in Anne Taylor — and plenty of laughter interspersed with the tears. It was a big, fat Jewish funeral and she would have loved it.

Shortly after the funeral, KCRW’s “Which Way L.A.” host Warren Olney asked me how The Journal would find a replacement for Marlene, if such a thing were possible. To replace her as a person is impossible.

But one way to perpetuate her legacy is to ensure thatjournalists like Rosendahl are able to meet the challenges of providing truelocal news coverage. Ask him how you can help at bill.rosendahl@adelphia.com . I’m certain Marlene would want a column dedicated to her to at least score some points for the kind of journalism she so admired.

Another way we can honor her legacy is to nurture the next generation of civic journalists. The Journal will shortly announce plans for an annual award in memory of Marlene Adler Marks. The award will go to a person whose writing presents critical civic issues with an informed and passionate voice. Los Angeles desperately needs such voices, for we have just lost a dear one.