PHOENIX Magazine Shakes Up Its Columnists -- Bommersbach, Leibowitz Axed

For 17 years, longtime Phoenix journalist Jana Bommersbach's columns have been featured prominently every month in the front of PHOENIX Magazine.

Not this month. And not, apparently, any time in the near future.

In an email exchange with New Times, PHOENIX Editor Ashlea Deahl confirms that the magazine "felt like it was time to start fresh and offer something new to the readers."

And it's not just Bommersbach's column getting the axe.

In the last six months, Bommersbach's column "Jana's View" has been joined by "Leibo at Large," which is penned by another local journalism mainstay, David Leibowitz. Like Bommersbach, Leibowitz is a veteran freelancer who's written for numerous publications. (He's also a former KTAR radio host and currently Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon's speechwriter.)

Neither column is in the June issue -- and Deahl confirms that neither "Jana's View" or "Leibo at Large" will be featured in the future. Instead, Deahl says, the editorial staff will collaborate on a new unsigned editorial every month.

This month's editorial -- which you'll have to pick up a print copy to read, as the magazine doesn't put all its content online -- criticizes the state for shuttering its parks.

"It might be written by a different editor every month, but we'll all play a part in reporting, researching, and editing it," Deahl explains.

In a brief email to New Times, Bommersbach declined comment, saying only, "They're off in a new direction and so am I."

Bommersbach wrote for the Arizona Republic and New Times before launching her freelance career. She is perhaps best known for her book The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd, which was published in 1993. She was the Arizona Press Club's Journalist of the Year in 1983 and has won numerous awards, including the press club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Reporting and its News Column writing award (many times, but most recently in 2009).  

In recent years, Bommersbach's left-leaning commentary seemed somewhat of an awkward fit for the magazine, which, like many city magazines these days, seems marketed toward upper-middle class suburbanites. They'd taken to running a rare disclaimer on the first page, noting that "Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of Cities West Publishing." (The disclaimer also ran for Leibowitz.) And, after years with Bommersbach as the only regular opinion columnist, PHOENIX began pairing her view with columns by arch-conservative radio host Darrell Ankarlo in 2007, seemingly to provide balance.

Ankarlo's column was discontinued in May 2009 after he suffered a traumatic brain injury following a car accident. After a few months of Bommersbach going it alone, Leibowitz was hired as the magazine's second columnist in December 2009.

In her email, Deahl praised Bommersbach's work. "Jana is definitely an institution in the Valley, and she did some truly amazing work," she writes.

And while Deahl also praised Leibowitz, who's long freelanced for the magazine, she pointed out a potential conflict of interest issue that didn't escape New Times readers: Soon after beginning the PHOENIX Magazine column, Leibowitz took a job writing speeches and spinning for Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon.

"While I completely trust and respect David's reporting skills, we needed someone who could be objectively critical of the city and all of its leaders," Deahl says. 

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