Monday, March 05, 2007

Extra! Extra!

The recent history of the Los Angeles Times is a microcosm of the modern world. You have some of the best writers, editors, and reporters in the country assembled and ready to do their finest work. And yet lately they have not been able to do so...

The Los Angeles Times has been, and is currently poised to be a great newspaper, the forth national paper of record after NYTimes, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal (some might also include USA Today). This would necessarily mean having reporters on the ground in places like Iraq and China and other world hotspots. The country could benefit from having another distinct voice weighing in on the public discourse. Right?

Wrong. The Los Angeles Times, according to a recent PBS Frontline report, has become first and foremost a business beholden to its stockholders - NOT a public trust with a mission to deliver original international news. They claim that the people of Los Angeles do not want a paper that wins Pulitzer Prizes and covers the war in Iraq. They claim that since it can not be proven that serious, high quality journalism yields increased profits... out it goes. That's sad and I do hope they, or perhaps some new owners, will reconsider this decision.

The key here lies in a phenomenon called hyperlocalization - reinventing the news media as a collective of throroughly localized reporting bases. To me it seems like yet another effort to prevent people from seeing the big picture, but one can also see the advantages. But should the LA Times, a paper with 125 years of experience in the international news arena, simply throw in the towel and tout celebrity bake sales on its front page? Call me old fashioned, but I say no.

When things like newspapers and hospitals and social security are treated as profit-driven businesses everybody loses. Do we want a country that is run by a cult of feed-the-beast, more-more-more, numbers-runners? Where economic growth is the goal, the god, and where life on earth is simply the renewable fuel that keeps the numbers going up?

For a more in depth look at the fate of news, and the chaning tides the LA Times, see this fascinating Frontline report.


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