KINDER-HEARTED people than me have been fretting lately about the impending loss of 85 editorial jobs at the Los Angeles Times. But I'd up the number to include anyone who had anything to do with the unbelievably lame cover story on the L.A. blogosphere in the Dec. 1 Calendar Weekend, including the editors responsible for it.
If you missed that piece, allow me to summarize. An article called "Blogging L.A." included neither the much-hyped L.A.-based commercial blogging enterprises that began this year (the Huffington Post and Pajamas Media, of which I'm a member), nor any of the major L.A. blogs (Kausfiles, the Volokh Conspiracy, Little Green Footballs, et al) except L.A. Observed and Defamer, and then only in passing.
Readers of this story would also have no idea that proto-blogger Matt Drudge began the Drudge Report here (his right-hand man, Andrew Breitbart, who still lives in L.A., recently began a news service called Breitbart.com) nor that the rise of influential (and profitable) big political blogs is, I'm sure, one reason traditional newspapers have been losing circulation and advertising -- thus the loss of those 85 editorial jobs.
Instead, Times readers were told about tiny, diary-style L.A. blogs, the kind that defined the medium about five years ago. You'd also have no idea that since the post-Sept. 11 explosion of political blogs, L.A. has been the capital of the blogosphere. But The Times -- which has a sorry tradition of ignoring trends in its own backyard -- has been missing that story from its beginning.
In October 2001, a staff writer wrote a seminally off-target piece that seemed almost entirely innocent about L.A. blogs, focusing instead on those in New York. And the paper's longtime media writer, the late David Shaw, was famously hostile to blogs, when he bothered to notice them at all.
How obscure are the blogs discussed in Calendar Weekend? The story opened with one that gets just 15 daily visits, and closed with another that no longer exists. What kind of L.A. blogs did these upstage? Just as one example, Little Green Footballs, which played a major role exposing CBS' National Guard memos story as a hoax last year, gets at least 50,000 hits a day. A cynic might suspect that The Times tries to make blogs seem as boring and inconsequential as possible, in order to staunch the flow of readers and advertisers from newspapers to the Internet.
"Politics runs heavy too," staff writer Scott Martelle wrote, "with intense, phlegm-flecked rants...." That would be spittle, obviously, in such an instance, not phlegm, and thanks a lot for making me stop to consider the difference. Then there's his strange reporting and analysis. "Blogging has yet to break out of its relatively small corner of the Internet," he (mis)informs readers. "Only about 5% of all adults contribute to blogs."
I'd guess that also less than 5% appear on TV or write for magazines, so are these enterprises therefore minor corners of the media world?
Staff writers at The Times often turn in very little copy (one story a week is not atypical), which means some are getting paid around $2,000 per mediocre, grudging piece. Wouldn't it be better to spend that money on freelancers (or bloggers!) who, if they can't work themselves up into something worth reading, don't get paid? Let the heads roll, I say.
Now you might argue that Calendar Weekend is about leisure, and so this clueless story was legitimately emphasizing the hobbyist angle. Fair enough. But Times editors should have had enough respect for readers (besides a healthy fear of looking like idiots) to at least sketch in the bigger picture. And that still doesn't excuse them for not even mentioning Arianna Huffington's star-studded Huffington Post. After all, what better defines leisure than celebrities blogging for free?