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MEDIA MATTERS DAVID SHAW

A dispassionate blogger keeps his eye on L.A.

August 24, 2003|DAVID SHAW

Kevin Roderick is not your typical blogger. He is neither an ideologue nor an egomaniac. He's not noticeably partisan or terribly passionate. He doesn't have an agenda on his mind or a chip on his shoulder.

As a good friend said when Roderick told him he planned to start his own blog: "You can't be a blogger. You're not crazy."

But Roderick is both a longtime devotee of the Internet and a media junkie with a deep interest in the history and culture of Los Angeles, so perhaps it's not surprising that for the past three months, he's run a blog called LAobserved.com. It's a personal Web log (hence, "blog") that essentially focuses on the media in Los Angeles and on anything about Los Angeles -- and anything written by Los Angeles writers -- that appears in any media, anywhere in the country.

Roderick is 50, Los Angeles-born and bred. He was a reporter and editor at The Times for 25 years before leaving in mid-2000, and since then, he's mostly been a freelance magazine writer.

His first book, on the San Fernando Valley, was published in 2001, after which he started a Web site on the history of the Valley. That led to a blog of sorts on the Valley secession movement. Now he's working on a book about the history of Wilshire Boulevard and its role in the development of Los Angeles.

At least he's trying to work on that book. LAobserved.com, which he says now draws about 1,000 visitors a day, seems to be taking an ever-increasing amount of his time.

Unlike those bloggers who seem convinced that the world breathlessly awaits their every thought -- and therefore leap out of bed every hour or so in the middle of the night to send those thoughts hurtling into cyberspace -- Roderick says he'd like to spend "no more than an hour a day" on his blog.

"That's probably not realistic," he says. "Sometimes I spend much as six hours a day. But it's usually much less than that, and I think I can get it down to an hour in the morning and an hour before I go to bed at night."

In its three months of existence, LAobserved.com has made note of and/or linked to, among many other things, personnel changes in local news organizations; book deals, signings, radio and television appearances by L.A. authors; two stories by Los Angeles writers in the new issue of Esquire; a controversial cartoon by The Times' Michael Ramirez; and a Slate.com story by a UCLA professor who argued that a "faith-based prison program favored by President Bush and conservatives actually makes recidivism worse."

Roderick's site has links to many news organizations' Web sites, to various pundits and commentators, to other blogs and to such Los Angeles-based sites as the Los Angeles Historical Society and Friends of the Los Angeles River.

Over the past six weeks or so, he's posted an average of about half a dozen items a day, most of them purely informational, devoid of any judgment or sneering observation by Roderick. This is yet another -- and thoroughly radical -- departure from most blogger sites, where judgment and attitude are the coin of the realm.

Roderick's online model is more the Poynter Institute's daily media clearinghouse known as "Romenesko" (and formerly known as mediagossip.com), rather than, say, AndrewSullivan.com (wherein the former editor of the New Republic offers his fervent views on every topic imaginable).

"Pointed opinion is what draws the most attention," Roderick acknowledges, "but it's also polarizing. And you get locked into an ideological niche. People don't know what to believe because everything you post comes through your ideological filter."

'Not political criticism'

Although Roderick introduced his blog on May 13 with an obligatory disclaimer -- "Like anyone, I begin this with a bunch of predispositions and biases" -- he told me over lunch recently that, in reality, "I don't have strong feelings on that many things."

That's why, he said, his blog is "pointedly not political criticism -- and pointedly not media criticism, at least not detailed media criticism, though I do sometimes have a sort of thumbs-up, thumbs-down comment" on some local media happenings."

Roderick was critical of the Daily News, for example, when it bannered a Page 1 story on lessons that leaders of the effort to recall Gov. Gray Davis should learn from the unsuccessful Valley secession movement ("a mite thin," he said).

Despite acknowledging "a truck load of conflicts of interest" because of his work for various local media, especially The Times, Roderick promised to offer his "honest and independent take when it's relevant and interesting."

Thus, while he said on his blog, "you can't be a serious consumer of L.A. news without registering at the LAT site [latimes.com]," he also criticized The Times last month for what he saw as its tardy and inadequate coverage of major program changes at KPFK radio.

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