Simone Wilson on Trading L.A. Weekly Beat for the Holy Land

When FishbowlLA tweeted out an L.A. Weekly-themed #FF group last Friday, one friend-follower handle was conspicuously absent (@simone_electra). That’s because Simone Wilson, for several years a tireless shotgun partner on the L.A. news beat with Dennis Romero, is now living and working in Israel.

“I actually quit my job at L.A. Weekly at the beginning of October, but because I still had a couple print stories in the tubes, it took readers a while to notice I was gone,” Wilson tells FishbowlLA via email. “It was 100% my decision to leave. Management at the paper made it clear that they would have loved to have me stay.”

“But for health reasons (I have cystic fibrosis, and the 24/7 news grind was rough on me) and wanting-to-see-the-world reasons, it just felt like the right time to move on,” she adds. Another reason Wilson chose Tel Aviv is that her boyfriend’s family owns an apartment building there, making it very cost-efficient for them to relocate.

Last week, Wilson had a solid piece in the Jewish Journal about Israeli Army conscientious objector Natan Blanc. She plans to do more freelancing for the SoCal paper and has other outlets in her sights as well.

“I actually just spent about a month writing a story involving the recent Israel-Gaza conflict for a major U.S. magazine, but I’d rather not say who until it runs,” Wilson teases. “I’ll also be pitching stories to alternative magazines and other U.S./international outlets.”

“I’m also involved in the founding of a new international journalism institute here in Israel,” she adds. “That’s been a huge honor and source of inspiration. It’s so refreshing to step back from the round-the-clock hustle for hits/headlines and look at how that’s affecting journalism, and how it’s affected me personally. I think a dose of big-picture wonk is crucial to any fried news blogger’s recovery.”

Compounding for Wilson the stress of the 24/7 Web news cycle was that as someone in the middle of complex big-city issues, she got more than her fair share of  Internet “haters.” But she says separate positive feedback more than made up for the trolls.

“There were moments like the one where the wife of a man nearly deported to Mexico (while still in a coma from a border-patrol Tasing) called me crying to tell me that thanks to my my news story, her family had been reunited,” Wilson recalls. “It’s like, ‘Chist – there’s no going back after that. This is the best job ever.’”

Wilson says she has no flight booked back to L.A. at this point and no position waiting at L.A. Weekly. But she fully intends at some point to return to SoCal. “I think there are more opportunities in LA for journalists to uncover insane and under-reported stories than in, say, New York, where the media market is over-saturated and reporters are often like hyenas all over the same carcass.”

“Los Angeles still feels like the Wild West… Everything is changing and open-ended; so many stones have yet to be unturned. And aesthetically, life is so surreal! I can’t count how many times I would find myself in situations where I was like, “Is this really happening right now?” So, in short — I’ll be back.”

In the meantime, she is adjusting to some of the differences of being a reporter in Israel. “It’s been weird to get used to not only the racial slurs here but the underlying resentment and even hatred between peoples and cultures,” Wilson replies. “But I’m definitely taking it slower than I did my LA learning curve.”

Wilson moved to Tel Aviv last November. Her final L.A. Weekly piece was a very well-received December cover story about the city’s epidemic of hit-and-run car accidents, for which she completed some of her final interviews via Skype from overseas. She started with the Weekly in September, 2010 after graduating from UC San Diego and working as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. Wilson is originally from Sonoma and turned 26 last week.

[Pictured: Wilson in Jerusalem]

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