I’ve developed something of a
love like/hate relationship with the Los Angeles Times (LAT) over the past decade. I love like the LAT as a news source, but I hate the LAT as a physical product.
It’s been a long downhill slide for the physical edition of the Times since they scrapped the tabloid format Calendar section, then split that section into multiple parts. That change worked out so well they decided to make the same mistake with the Comics. If you’ve ever spent a Sunday afternoon searching for the Business section buried deep in the bowels of the auto classifieds, then you know just how bad the LAT reading experience can be. It’s like a fracking scavenger hunt.
Apparently the LAT unveiled a new design earlier this week. To which I can only say, so what? Each iteration of the paper’s physical design seems to make the news reading experience just a bit worse. Even if this new version of the Times is a huge improvement, it’s still too little too late. The days when I’ll buy a print edition of the LAT are long gone.
Walking out to the curb to pick up a soggy bundle of yesterday’s news seems like an antiquated concept. And yet, that’s exactly what I had been doing until very recently. The sad truth is that my LAT subscription remained active until just a few months ago.
“We’re great about putting out a paper; we’re getting a lot better at putting up a Web site,” [Russ Stanton, editor of the Los Angeles Times] said. “We’re not very good on TV or radio, and we don’t do mobile at all. We need to do all of those things going forward.”
I don’t know about you, but if you’re the editor of a major metropolitan newspaper in mid-2008 and you’re saying any that you’re “getting a lot better an putting up a web site”, then, wow, can we look forward to a 2018 quote to the effect of hey, lookee here, it’s the Facebook!
Newspapers have known for a long time now that the audience is changing. Fifteen years at least; that’s a good amount of notice. Fifteen years ago should have been the start of “what are we going to do next?” conversation. Ten years ago, a time of great experimentation (this period, we recall, was dominated by pointless registration tactics). Five years ago, the online team should have been seamlessly integrated into the editorial team and strong forays into blending the social web with solid news begun.
When I was a mere pre-blogger, one of my life’s fantasies was to become a journalist. I still remember my first published article, written when I was a high school freshman. I did a story on teenage mothers who were finishing school while caring for their babies. They were doing this in what was my former elementary school, previously closed due to budget cuts.
I still remember how weird that felt, talking to girls my age who were learning algebra and how to raise babies in the place I learned to read.
Time went on and I became co-editor of my school paper, together with one my best friends. Around then, I realized that, to be honest, I was more of an opinion columnist than journalist. Sometimes facts get in the way of the story. This might be why I also write fiction. But I’ve always loved newspapers, more for what they represent than what they are.
It’s no secret that the newspaper business is in serious trouble. Circulations are plummeting and advertising revenue is in a free-fall. It’s widely agreed that the Internet is to blame, so you might think that newspapers would embrace new technology and work to establish strategic partnerships with companies that could help them deliver news in the manner that their readers prefer it. Instead many in the newspaper business seem to be waging an ongoing battle against all things new media. They’re responding in a way that media dinosaurs have traditionally responded to any new threat — with lawsuits and name calling.
A few weeks back I noted that would-be Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell doesn’t seem to understand the value of search engines. He’s not the only one. A number of European news services have been fighting Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft over links to European news websites. Apparently these publications prefer to limit their readership to the small number of individuals who might actually type the paper’s URL into their web browser. Since advertising revenue on the Internet is directly related to the number of visitors a website receives, suing Google probably isn’t the best business decision.
We aren’t doing this not to be noticed.
This stuff, what I’m doing at this moment. Writing. Online. Not me, not Kirk or Kassia or Jim or Roxanne or anyone else in Team Loper’s extended tail. We want to be seen. This is not to say that we aren’t doing it for the love of the words, or because we aren’t genuinely interested in the culture on which we report. Those things are all true.
But we aren’t exactly anonymous, either. All of us want to be recognized to as writers (though I suspect we all know better than to adopt such a lofty title based on blogging). We have bylines because we want you, dear Loperfan, to know who said what, and so we can get that thrill of me! i wrote that! while cringing at all the typos we didn’t catch before going live. I’m one of the worst, both in typos and because I haven’t been able to breach the ego barrier and simply use my first name. Heavens no. That’s not good enough. Has to say “Sherilyn Connelly,” lest someone think Sherilyn Fenn wrote it. (I see Roxanne also keeps the Irish surname visible. Power, sister-in-law!)