Sat, Jan

LA’s Online Opinions and the People Who Have Them

MAILANDER’S LA - I was explaining to someone today how, here in LA, a lot of writers suddenly all met each other about ten years ago.  They met thanks to the stupidly timely invention of easy access weblogs.  Some writers wouldn't touch the new stuff.  I touched it right away, with a Moveable Type blog, as most were on that platform in 2003.  But I don't care about the software, I care about the people who operated it.

Very likely, the first writer I met through the new platform was Jason Toney, one of the first (and to this day one of the best) editors of LAist.  We met for a cup of coffee at Cafe Casbah.  A lot of people met at Ariana's--I'm sure I met Matt Welch there, for instance.  I soon fell into two circles: one was an LA lit circle, and another one was the political sphere.  All of these people were so different from the people I previously had known from those spheres that I and I'm sure many others as well were stunned to realize that previous to the blogosphere we simply had no idea that there were so many passionate writers in the city.

There probably isn't a single good acquaintance I made from that time that I don't maintain a good acquaintance with today. Those were good times, and those who were in early feel connected in ways that others don't.  We often fought with each other, even violently, but most people could get over the rhetoric when we got together for drinks, which was very often.

But I have to admit that these days, the LA blogosphere after its first quickie decade is more than a little f**ked up.  I think this is ironically because it's populated by too many people who knew journalism too well before they began blogging.  They're not choosing subjects well, and especially they're not innovating well.

While the existence of blogs emboldened a lot of people to write who hadn't done much public writing before--which was an excellent thing--a crazy amount of people who had written a little or a lot previous to 2003 and 2004 came to the blogosphere in those early years looking to experience some freedom from increasingly churlish and controlling editors--of which local media seemed to be loading up on.

Those people are now simply ten years older and not one second younger.  That in itself presents challenges on the opinion side.  Strong opinion writing is something that comes with time; it's hard to do it well until you've seen two generations of life.  But also, predictably, it meant that most of the strongest opinion sites began erring on the frumpy side, and by now they are positively staid. They look like a time warp to the department store windows of the Men's Suit Warehouse of decade ago.  

Glitz, bells, whistles, and even connecting to young people has been a low priority for them.  After a decade, they mostly have ended up looking like they were designed for people in their seventies, for use of people in their eighties.

In some cases, unfortunately, the freedom from editors that the blogosphere availed also meant freedom from common sense.  Working the most innovative medium of all, local opinion blogs have not shown a predisposition towards innovation at all.  And the two notable national innovations--HuffPo and AOL Patch--both fumble opinion writing nearly completely: HuffPo's as anyone with a little knowledge of any topic can see is done with too much of an eye to market to be of much use in the opinion department, and AOL doesn't know what to do with the stuff at all.

Those various disconnects aren't the only problems with opinions and blogs in town. And as bad as it is in the blogosphere, the local opinion world here in the blogosphere simply kills the opinion world in print, which has its own problems.  Mainly, staying relevant.  I was having an exchange with a noted columnist this past week, and I suddenly realized: man, I haven't even read a word you've written in the past three years.

All in all, it's been a good ride, writing opinions in the blogosphere for a decade now.  I don't especially like being identified as a blogger--frumpy myself, I've been writing opinion journalism since 1981 and fiction since 1984--but I suppose I should keep that bristle private, as people are going to do it anyway.  

A tweak of innovation here and a thimble more of cooperation there, and I might even become glad to acknowledge it.


(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs at www.josephmailander.com.)





Vol 11 Issue 27

Pub: Apr 2, 2013