THE NEWS stories last week about how Internet advertising is offering a ray of hope to shrinking second-quarter newspaper profits, particularly at the Los Angeles Times' parent, Tribune Co., reminded me that just a few years ago The Times was so condescending about online media that it would bend over backward to avoid identifying particular Internet publications in news stories.
I remember in 2001 reading one of the late David Shaw's media stories (about how The Times covers Hollywood) and being stopped short by this line: "David Poland, writing on the Internet last fall, accused [Times reporter Claudia Eller] of going out of her way to turn a story about the box-office disappointment of 'Almost Famous' into 'an attack piece' on its director.... "
"Writing on the Internet"? Where? In a chat room or message board or something? From Shaw's dismissive tone, that's what you might have thought.
Actually, Poland -- who now makes a living covering Hollywood through paid advertising on his Movie City News website -- was working at the time for TNT's (now-defunct) Roughcut.com, then a popular source for Hollywood news.
That The Times saw no need to identify this online publication was more than a lapse of professional courtesy; "writing on the Internet" is mainstream media code for "unreliable." Readers might have appreciated the chance to check out Poland's column for themselves, and a newspaper that withholds such basic information isn't serving the public.
Beyond that, how are newspapers going to compete with online news if they can't even acknowledge that it exists?
Even five years ago, younger readers' appetite for Hollywood gossip was noticeably fed not by the daily print media but by various popular and completely free online publications. A newspaper that doesn't get that, I thought, is a newspaper that's got a problem.
Which The Times apparently still does. Although the paper has become grudgingly aware of competition from online upstarts and does now offer links to many of the online stories it cites, I was irritated at how it handled the news earlier this month about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's disapproval of people who yammer away on cellphones while driving.
According to a front-page California section story, the governor, signaled his "support for long-stalled legislation banning drivers' use of hand-held cellphones" -- but where, exactly, he signaled that support was kept vague. Did Schwarzenegger tell this to a Times reporter during a one-on-one interview? Did someone from the paper attend a news conference?
Nothing of the sort. The entire piece was based on what The Times described as "an online interview with a reporter broadcast over the Internet." And that, dear readers, is all the information your daily paper thinks you need to know.
The Times correctly considered Schwarzenegger's position on cellphones important enough that the follow-up story the next day made the front page. And still I wondered: What reporter? Broadcast where, exactly, over the Internet?
If these stories had been based on a Schwarzenegger interview in a traditional newspaper -- whether the Washington Post or a small-town weekly -- The Times almost certainly would have credited the source, and rightly so.
A little Googling revealed that Schwarzenegger took questions from the public directly during a webcam chat moderated by Kate Folmar of the San Jose Mercury News.
The entire Web interview and a transcript were then posted on the governor's website (gov.ca.gov/index.php/speech/1613). The latimes.comversion of the story could easily have provided a link, but didn't.
That the governor is now breaking his policy decisions directly to the public seems newsworthy in itself, but evidently The Times either doesn't think so or feels so threatened by the situation that it's decided to just stick its collective head in the sand and forget about it. So readers never learned the source of the information, didn't get to see the full interview and were unable to hear Schwarzenegger's remarks in context.
"That's what it's all about, to be available to the people; the people have access to me and they feel connected," Schwarzenegger said during the interview. Well, not if the L.A. Times can help it.