Monday, March 05, 2007

Let them read pabulum

Patty here…

On February 13th, Paul wrote a passionate and provocative essay called “To the News Media Bordello: Show Us the Coffins.” His comments took wing and were picked up by other blogs, and as a result, many people came to NakedAuthors to read what he had to say.

I thought about Paul's post again on Saturday morning as I was reading Tim Rutten’s column, “Regarding Media” in the Los Angeles Times. For those of you who don’t know, the Times has been in a fight for its life ever since the Chandler family sold out to Chicago-based Tribune Company, which has tried to eviscerate the paper by slashing editorial staff and forcing the resignation of two editors and two publishers who opposed the cuts.

In his column, Rutten introduces a new player to the drama. Enter Charles K. Bobrinskoy. He’s the vice chairman and director of research for Ariel Capital Management, a Chicago-based money management firm and Tribune's fourth-largest stockholder. Bobrinskoy, with all his corporate wisdom, thinks he knows what the people of Los Angeles need and want in a newspaper: pabulum.

Bobrinskoy says Times readers yearn for “…a very strong, high-quality, local newspaper, focused on the things that people in L.A. care about: style, Hollywood entertainment, local government, local sports, local issues like immigration…”

Rutten writes:

Worst of all, according to Bobrinskoy, the Los Angeles Times has been wasting its time trying to explain to you “why Bush went to war in Iraq,” when all you wanted to know was what to wear to the next premiere and how many points Kobe scored last night…Those of you who were hoping to find out about the world and the rest of the United States by reading the Los Angeles Times will be just as happy when you realize that what you really want is to be well dressed.

I suppose Bobrinskoy’s inflammatory statements could be viewed as a clever scheme to incite a couple of local billionaires, who may want to buy the paper, to act. Ariel's shareholders might benefit handsomely from a transaction like that. But that scenario seems unlikely.

Bobrinskoy is dead wrong, of course. We Angelenos care more about how Bush got us into Iraq than we care about whether Brad and Jen are friends again. If we want stories about the fluffy side of life we can get them from television.

Since Mr. Bobrinskoy is a research director, perhaps he should do some research before he lobs careless insults. There are 3,976,071 people in the City of Los Angeles and 10,245,572 in the eighty-eight cities in LA County. The county has produced over twenty Nobel Prize winners. Around forty Pulitzer Prize winners have come from the ranks of the Los Angeles Times. Our top educational institutions rival those anywhere in the U.S. The area is home to trailblazing NASA scientists at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena who, when they’re not reading newspapers, are busy developing sensors to detect life on Mars. And lest we forget, the area is also home to problem-solving gurus at Rand Corporation’s think tank. You know, those folks who foreshadowed the fall of the Soviet Union. Not everybody reads the Los Angeles Times, but of the ones who do, are we to believe they prefer articles like “Do lip plumpers really work?” to "Experts fear nuclear facility is lax on safety"?

When I was in business school we were taught to think globally not locally. I got that message. I think we all did. So why is it that so often people in power still treat the rest of us like dull children? And this to you, Mr. Bobrinskoy: Please stop your condescending LA bashing. It's so yesterday.


On another note, CONTRATULATIONS to our own JIM BORN. His novel ESCAPE CLAUSE has just won the Florida Book Award for Best Novel. If you're in the area, Jim will be signing his latest novel FIELD OF FIRE at The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6th. Paul and I will both be there. Hope to see you there, too.

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  1. Patty, you know what I love about reading this blog - never mind that I am one of the contributors - it's the fact that at least one post each week makes one of my arteries want to split in two with rage at what THEY think we should be doing, or about the skeins of wool currently being pulled across our collecctive vision by the government and big business. And as that much-seen bumper sticker says, "If you aren't enraged, you haven't been paying attention." And I love the fact that you've brought something else for us to chew over, to talk about, and I hope someone, somewhere, takes note.

    We should all be furious about the way international news, whether on TV or in the newspapers (NEWSpapers), has somehow managed to confuse itself with entertainment and froth. It's all part of the dumbing down of the people, which undermines us all, our country and the world. I, personally, do not want to be assailed by Oscar-night frocks or the latest in McMansion design when my civil liberties are being eroded, kids are being killed in wars that should never have been waged, and people the world over are starving - I had to read in the European press about a new US-based report that poverty in America has reached new highs, and is currently worse than in the depression.

    Thank you, Patty, for this post - I hope it's re-posted and linked to other blogs time and time again, as it should be. I, for one, do not want to be managed by a suit who thinks he knows what I want to read because I live in a certain catchment area. I couldn't give a flying you-know-what about Hollywood and its sycophantic glitterati.

    And in what other newspaper would you find a Pulitzer-prize winning writer for the automobile section (Dan Neill of the LA Times) who would begin a review of a new car by quoting Camus or Sartre, or by reflecting upon a poem recently read - and have your attention in the palm of his hand right through to the bits about torque? I reckon that a highly literate auto column tells you everything you need to know about how hard news is treated, and that is - until these new guys come along toting their Tinsel Town ideas - with respect and regard for the average reader, that
    s/he has the stamina and interest to read news that has honesty, weight and depth to it.

  2. Whew! I couldn't agree more. I love Dan's column in the Highway Section as well as his "800 Words" essay in the Sunday magazine. I love Rutten's column as well, because he continues to keep the pressure on those people "from away."

  3. If that bozo, Charles Brobrinskoy had his way, The Los Angeles Times never would have devoted the resources to these stories:

    1. "The Widow Maker," investigative study of faulty military aircraft that claimed the lives of 45 pilots.

    2. "Enrique's Journey," a Honduran boy's search for his mother in the U.S.

    3. Photographic essay of civil war in Liberia.

    4. Russia's fight against terrorism and attempts to achieve democracy.

    All were awarded Pulitzer prizes. The Los Angeles Times won 12 Pulitzers in the past four years. And the newspaper does make money, though perhaps not enough for investment bankers in Chicago.

  4. I also love the photographs of Carolyn Cole. The articles by Steve Lopez. The list goes on...

  5. San Francisco has already ceded the newspaper wars. Neither of our daily papers has the depth, breadth, insight or curiosity of the LA Times. (Except for Eddie Muller's new crime fiction column in the SF Chronicle. That one is fabulous.)

    Patty and Jackie, I agree with your outrage. This last six months has been, perhaps, the best (and worst) example of egregious pandering and superficial celebrity fixation in all genres of media.

    In the words of Howard Beale (Peter Finch) from "Network":

    "I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth; banks are going bust; shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the street, and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it.

    We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. And we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be!

    We all know things are bad -- worse than bad -- they're crazy.

    It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we're living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.'

    Well, I'm not going to leave you alone.

    I want you to get mad!

    I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot. I don't want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street.

    All I know is that first, you've got to get mad.

    You've gotta say, 'I'm a human being, goddammit! My life has value!'

    So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell,

    'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!!'"

  6. I agree with Louise.

    Of course, they shot Howard Beale, didn't they?

  7. Here goes another major blood vessel - thank you, Louise, for your comment. The SF Chronicle (the SF Comical as it's locally known) is really a great example of blandness and nothings all wrapped up in the pretense of being a newspaper. With just a few notable exceptions, the paper has lost good journalists - they dropped like flies - and it's left with very little except a name.

    I do so object to accountants dictating what I read - it's the same with the big box bookstores, more or less. Good newspapers are under the same pressures as the independent bookstores. We must constantly voice our fury over this pressure to confirm to a sugary coating of blandness, and the assumption that we all want to follow a pink pied piper down a alley of denial and misinformation. I want news. If I don't want to know on any particular day, I have a choice. But, by God, I would fight for my right to that choice.

  8. Wow! What's left to say? I agree with all of you.

    Newspapers are rapidly following in the steps of TV and radio "news"--entertainment 95%, news 5%. Disgusting.

    BTW: I am NOT, and will never claim to be, the father of Anna Nicole's baby.


  9. Louise, thanks for reminding us of that. I loved that movie. And Groupie, methinks you protest too much. I've seen Dannielynn's eyes, that smile. It's you you you.