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“Old Farts” vs. Bloggers

By Catherine Seipp The Michael Richards n-word incident continues to take its toll, especially in media circles. I just noticed, for instance, that former Los Angeles Timesman Bob Baker's attempt at "satirizing" Richards' recent comedy club implosion used the n-word 23 times and therefore got him in trouble with a "reporter/friend," (presumably nonwhite, otherwise I suspect Baker would have tried to come up with some sort of argument.) But the sometime L.A. Times writing coach quickly backed off from his Lenny Bruce-inspired parody regretfully and fully.

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Catherine Seipp

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December 21, 2006 - 6:30 am

His excuses, basically, were (1) “It was the greatest feeling: Blogging. Vrooooom! An idea struck me and with nary a thought I had posted it on the Internet,” because, you know, that’s what the Internet is – “You just type and–vroooooom!!–lights out, baby.” And (2) Desperation from going four weeks as one of the Los Angeles media site L.A Observed’s basically foreign-to-the-form stable of “bloggers,” with not even the glimmer of an idea for a post. These essays are grouped at L.A. Observed under its Native Intelligence section.

Some background here: L.A. Observed is a Los Angeles media blog run by former L.A. Timesman Kevin Roderick who, like Bob Baker, is not terribly fond of irreverence directed at his former employer. L.A. Observed provides valuable media news, which is why every media person I know checks it regularly, although I’ve spent far less time there since Roderick cut out the comments.

I don’t know anyone who clicks on the Native Intelligence pieces (unless, as in the Bob Baker case, it seems horrifically interesting and Roderick brings it to our notice). That’s not to say no one ever does, but it hardly strikes me as that blog’s strongest element.

I’d say that if it takes you a month to think of an idea for a blogging post you probably shouldn’t be blogging – or maybe even reporting or editing, at least not for the sorts of salaries they pay you at the Times, where indeed you can make a nice living while being almost completely bereft of ideas. That’s why I’m less sympathetic than many at the cost-cutting standoff going on now between the Tribune Company and its sometimes bloated L.A. outpost.

But maybe that’s me, and I admit this opinion may be flavored my general prejudice against writing coaches, which Baker was at the Times and now is on a freelance basis. From his own site: “Helping you is my calling. Getting there is your job.” Oh, dear. Journalists who want to help always strike me as better suited to social work or something, and unfortunately their earnest attitudes are one of the mainstream media’s biggest problems now in dealing with the rude new world of Internet journalism.

I speculated about all this on my blog, which brought a comment from Bob Baker himself, who accused me (among other things) of having a “junior high schoolish” blogs vs. old farts world-view. He did, to his credit, own up to being an “old fart” in his mea culpa in L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence section.

But I mean, Jeez, I’ve never gone four weeks (or even four days) without an idea about anything. I admit posting here has been somewhat light lately, but I just got out of the hospital and my energy has been pretty low. I hope that if my ideas ever sink to the level that I imagine I’m writing satire when I’m not, I hope someone saves me from myself.

The reason Bob Baker wasn’t so saved, he explained in his second Native Intelligence post, was because he no longer works at the L.A. Times newsroom, that wonderful place “where you can ask a podmate to stand up, look at your screen and offer a quick verdict on your lead.”

Newsroom experience has its advantages, I agree, but these tend to involve reporting than writing. I’ve spent a few years in newsrooms myself, and while I’m sure I irritated colleagues there in various ways, at least I never was one of those people who make a habit of popping up like jack-in-the-boxes, heads craning over the next “pods” to bug their fellow “podmates” for their opinions.

I guess, therefore, I’m what Baker would classify in the first category of his theory that “there are only two kinds of journalists – bad ones, and those who are improving.” On the other hand, the last time I worked in a newsroom, we had desks rather than those insurance company-style “podules.”

I do like to think I’ve improved at least somewhat lately, but not from asking other writers their opinion of my pieces before I’ve finished them.

Anyway, Bob Baker wrote in my blog comments that “those of you who pride yourself on making sense of a crazy world know, if you read my piece, that it’s more complex than portrayed by C.S. Then again, most things are.”

Chop! One of Baker’s friends wrote in several times to defend him, so I should explain that L.A. Observed has some excellent writers in its Native Intelligence section — David Rensin, Denise Hamilton, and uh…well I hope “some” will take care of at least a few hurt feelings… but: what they are doing there is ill-suited to blogging, and I don’t really think it’s cruel to point out that these mostly long, untimely essays would be better read on paper, at leisure in a coffee-shop, for instance, rather than at a computer monitor.

Some of blogging’s important elements include: regular and frequent posting, interactivity with readers, reaction and commentary to mainstream media news, links proving one’s point, and so on. You can get away with weakness in some of these areas if others are strong enough. But some perfectly fine journalists are just not bloggers, they don’t really get the Internet, and therein lies the basic problem facing newspapers today.

I readily cop to “junior-highschoolish” snarkiness, thus my ingrained antipathy to writing coaches, and indeed to anyone with that kind of hall monitor mentality. I suppose a certain immaturity is probably an asset when it comes to blogging.

But congratulations to Bob Baker for “making sense of this crazy world”! I hope he continues to enjoy that prideful feeling at having figured it all out, because I’ve certainly never managed that particular feat myself.


PajamasMedia Special Correspondent CATHERINE SEIPP writes the weekly “From the Left Coast” column for National Review Online, a monthly column for Independent Women’s Forum and freelances other places, such as the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal op-ed pages. She previously wrote columns for: Buzz, Mediaweek, UPI, New York Press and Salon. Her work has also appeared in Reason, Penthouse, TV Guide, the National Post and Forbes.

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