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Mourning My Local Paper

Jul
23
2008

Thirteen years ago, when I moved to Los Angeles, the city had just lost its two professional football teams. Then the Rams packed up for St. Louis and the Raiders went home to Oakland, leaving a gaping hole in the City of Angels’ civic pride. Los Angeles was no longer a big-league pro-football City.

Last week, there was a bloodbath on First Street home of the Los Angeles Times, which announced that two hundred and fifty jobs, including 150 reporters would be cut. The newspaper that once aimed to be the West Coast’s answer to the New York Times and its Manhattan elitism has become, overnight a shadow of itself and its ambitions.

The question I found myself asking was not whether the Times was dead – it has been dying for awhile – but whether Los Angeles will miss it in a decade, or, as with professional football, will we hardly know we miss it.

The day after the layoffs at the paper were announced, I found myself about fifteen minutes behind schedule for my morning gym routine. This can be dangerous, because the Precor cardio machines which perfectly cradle a newspaper and have no moving parts fill up quickly within the first hour that the gym is open.

To my dismay, that extra fifteen minutes of sleep meant that indeed, I was relegated to some other cardio machine, so I chose the one next to my friend Ron, who had forgotten his iPod that morning.

“Luckily,” I told Ron, “there’s no longer thirty minutes worth of reading in the paper any more! It’s gotten so bad, I have to bring a pen to work on the Sudoku puzzle just so I can make it through a workout.”

Ron agreed, and commented about how on a recent Sunday, his $1.50 paper barely kept this attention through brunch.

I suppose a paper it is good for tactile people like myself to entertain ourselves while slavishly fighting a jihad on the waistline. And newspapers are good to have if your pet makes a mistake on your carpet. But beyond that, print is becoming less and less relevant.

Is there a need any longer for a Los Angeles perspective on Iraq, or would people rather turn to national news outlets? Why bother checking my stocks in the morning paper, when the markets already are open in New York? Most information is old by the time it gets in the paper and people are turning online to get the latest, fastest information.

There is a watchdog role at the local level for a print publication. They have the resources and gravitas to cover City Hall, but only if they want to. But, in concentrating its efforts on competing with the East Coast papers like New York’s Times and the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times abdicated this role to its regional competitors. And it got beaten, consistently, in the local markets.

Similarly, when it comes to what’s going on in Los Angeles’ scores of neighborhoods, a newspaper falls short. Instead, hundreds of weblogs have cropped up covering our communities from a wide angle of perspectives. Usually there is an agenda involved, but at least these bloggers admit to having bias, unlike the paper!

Some of the best content in the Los Angeles Times is the traffic coverage of Steve Hymon. Traffic is just about the one issue that unites everyone within the Los Angeles area, rich or poor, urban or suburban. Hymon covers the issue diligently on-line with his Bottleneck blog which is edited and reprinted for the paper on a regular basis.

Hymon’s efforts offers a glimpse of things to come, I think. When Pro Football left Los Angeles more than a decade ago, it did not mean the death of weekend recreation in Los Angeles. Since the NFL left, the sport enjoys high ratings in the city as people watch NFL games from other parts of the country. College football at USC and UCLA is thriving like never before. And people have discovered hiking, biking or other sports. We don’t miss the NFL.

And while Los Angeles currently mourns the changes at the venerable Los Angeles Times, in a decade I doubt we will miss it. If the paper wants to keep publishing, perhaps the best model would be to cut its staff of writers even more, and hire editors. Those editors can pick from among the city’s best and brightest bloggers and (with a contributor agreement) select the best of Los Angeles’ online content and republish it the next morning.

It may not be “journalism” – as we know it, now – but this melding of formats would control costs, and democratize the press like never before. Make a system like that work, and we’ll be glad that the Times as we knew it lives no more!

Share  Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 11:16 AM | Permalink

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