Sunday, July 10, 2005

New LA Times Current Section! Prime Rib Or ...Hamburger Helper? Where's The Beef??

As I said earlier today - after the wickitorial disaster of trying to engage the people of LA through a major international issue rather than an issue that affects our every day lives - it would seem unimaginable that the LA Times could make the same mistake a second time.

But they did.

The overriding subject they choose to launch this feature was... terrorism.

Now as it turns out - with the Thursday bombings in London - terrorism has suddenly became a hot topic again. And the lead story became the most e-mailed story in the LA Times today (though I doubt if it was as nearly well read in the print section due to the design problems with the printed section).

And I should state that the articles chosen were well thought out and they were written by a variety of expert commentators. But each of those articles could have just as easily been found in the NY Times, the Washington Post, any news magazine, the Wall Street Journal - or any of a dozen other sources.

But what about the stories that only an LA based paper would cover? What about stories that affect those of us who actually live in LA on a day to day basis? Why not launch the new section with a focus on... Los Angeles?

Well, because then, it wouldn't be the LA Times.

As for the rest of the pieces, there was Joel Stein attacking Harry Potter books - which of course is an easy way to drive traffic to any site. The problem though is that his unsure mix of satire, often, but not always failed comedy and trying to make serious points never quite seems to come off as intended. He always seems to be straining for affect rather than being concerned about actual content

Dennis Prager's column on Jews as the Chosen People is another sure fire subject, but it needed to be much longer to really tackle all the subjects he tried to address. I am also not really sure what it is I was supposed to walk away from with after reading the piece. Laurence Leamer's article on Arnold and the media, however, was just long enough to make his points.

As for Govindini Murty's piece on how Hollywood elites are making movies that offend half of the country, I do agree that there are audiences that Hollywood is clearly missing, but I feel that declining ticket sales have as much to do with legal DVD sales and cheap pirated DVD's and computer video streams that arrive before a film even opens. It is, again, a subject that needs more space to really do justice to.

The most successful feature, as usual, was the OUTSIDE THE TENT piece. This week it was by Jamie Court of the misleadingly named Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. Below are his best points:

The valuable real estate of the "letters to the editor" section - the only place for readers to speak - is regularly carved out so editorial writers can comment on "Editorials Elsewhere." As if anyone cares what the Los Angeles Times has to say about what the Washington Post has to say?

The new "Thinking Out Loud" feature - "an experiment in making up our minds in public" - often has been nothing but a group blog. To let editorial writers "think aloud" about traffic, for instance, all letters to the editor were canceled on June 16. Apparently the mundane details of editorial writers' commutes - including graphics of their departure and arrival times - held more import than a day of readers' commentaries about the news.

Editorial analysis will also be abandoned for the editorial page's new "SoCal Life" feature - allowing writers to "reflect on life in this region." Editorials are usually devoted to the rough and tumble of policy and social issues, not why it's so hard to find a nanny.

One senses a preference for talking heads from editor and onetime "Crossfire" host Michael Kinsley, who oversees the editorial page, op-ed and Current. Editorial Page Editor Andrés Martinez recently told the New York Times: "Michael does like to ask questions, such as, 'In today's world, what is the continuing relevance of a newspaper editorial board?' "

Relevance is not, however, injecting more personality onto the page, as Martinez and Kinsley have done by each writing a column of personal opinion every week on the op-ed page - which once stood for "opposite the editorial page." Now it's a colony of it. Beyond that, The Times has increased from three to 11 the number of regular columnists that inhabit the daily op-ed page. That narrows the space for community voices and first-person accounts.

Nearly all the new columnists could be bloggers in that they have a common way of conversing about conventional wisdom rather than presenting original points of view. If I wanted to hear Margaret Carlson's June retread of well-traveled headlines on President Bush and the Republican Party, I would watch her on CNN.

Lastly, after reviewing the new section, one fact remains. After reading all these articles and all these opinions - what action items did we walk away with? What changes might people make in their lives or in their communities after reading the new 'Current' section? What real affect might anything said in the 'Current' section have on anyone's life?

The answer is... none.

And if it for that reason that this section - along with the rest of the LA Times - remains completely and utterly irrelevant to the daily life of this city.

But at least they're trying! And that does mean a lot. But LA Times still has to find a way to find out from the people who actually read their paper - what they want to see in that paper.

1 comment:

Mack said...

So, Brady - what do *you* want to see in the paper? Personally, I think they should get some of the high-paid long-viewers who turn out one massive awards-bait thumbsucker a year away from their desks and back into the streets to actually cover Los Angeles. That'd be a fine start.