In just two words, Sandra Tsing Loh manages to encapsulate what is wrong with the LA Times. As any native of Los Angeles knows, one of the dark secrets to be passed down from generation to generation is that if you want to drive across Hollywood - take Fountain!
"Graduates! As you sit on Beckman Lawn, ruminating over your last four years here - or five, or eight - you might be asking yourself: "What does my Caltech past mean? What of my present? Most importantly, what philosophical advice do I need to carry me, ship-like, into my future?" You may not actually being thinking this - we certainly weren't at our graduation - but this is a commencement speech so let's get to it. The advice.
And historically, the one thing we know about advice is: So much is given, so little is remembered, and the little that's remembered is short. Think of Elizabeth Taylor. When asked what advice she had for tomorrow's actors, she said just two words: "Take Fountain." Fountain is a lesser known boulevard in Hollywood, a great shortcut across town. Unusual: Advice that's pithy, useful and still relevant today."
This simple joke, based on that shared common knowledge (though she, alas, felt it necessary to explain it to her audience), was easily the funniest thing in her commencement speech at Cal Tech, excerpted in today's Opinion section of the LA Times. And it is exactly the lack of that type of humor and that type of shared common knowledge that has created the rapidly widening gap between the barely Los Angeles Times and its ever increasingly vanishing readers.
For in 90% of the stories published in the LA Times - even if they are about LA - they could just as easily have been written by someone phoning in researched facts from Chicago or New York or Philadelphia without having to ever set foot in Los Angeles.
PS -- The idea of Sandra writing again for the LA Times came up in the recent "Use Eric Stein As A Pinata" blog....
.... so if you want to judge yourself who has won this comedy showdown - here is Joel's latest column to compare with Sandra's:
.... and here is Sandra's again: