Patterico's Pontifications


L.A. Times Columnist: Blogs Are Like “Crab Grass” Sprouting Everywhere

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 9:24 am

To the certain amusement of bloggers, L.A. Times columnist David Lazarus resurrects the classic Big Media canard: Big Media is great and blogs suck.

The observation comes in a column that bemoans the fact that newspapers don’t charge for online content. Lazarus gripes that teenagers will pay for .mp3s, but not for online newspaper subscriptions. These damn kids nowadays!

My favorite part of Lazarus’s column is the part where he displays his dinosaur-like attitude towards New Media. Lazarus lauds his own publication as “the much-respected, widely esteemed news outlet you’re currently enjoying” — as contrasted with blogs, which he views as nuisances that “continue sprouting like crab grass throughout the electronic ether.” (You can tell he is pining for some blog herbicide that would remove this pestilence from the online world.) He adds: “Soon, the line separating quality journalism from utter hokum will be too blurry to discern.”

Breaking news for you, Mr. Lazarus: your editors are already unable to tell the difference.

Allow me, a mere crab-grass blogger, to give a much-respected and widely esteemed L.A. Times business columnist a remedial ecomonics lesson. If you’re supplying something people want to pay for, people will pay for it. If you aren’t, they won’t.

Your solution should not be to whine about this state of affairs. Your solution should be to provide a product that people want to pay for.

Why don’t people want to pay for the L.A. Times? I don’t know for sure. Speaking strictly for myself, I refuse to subscribe because your paper irresponsibly published details of a classified and legal anti-terror program. But others have their own reasons.

For example, many conservatives argue that your product is unpopular because it is untrustworthy.

There’s no doubt that it is. I’m in the process of compiling the links for my annual year-end review of the performance of your paper. It isn’t pretty, Mr. Lazarus. And it hasn’t been for quite some time.

But I have never completely bought into the idea that newspapers are having financial problems because they are inaccurate and/or liberally biased. Blogs have their foibles, too — and your paper has some strengths.

Here’s what I think is happening. We are all in the midst of an Internet revolution that none of us completely understands. Newspapers haven’t figured it out yet. I hope they do, because I think there’s a need for watchdogs — and there are investigations that (currently, at least) require the kind of manpower that only institutions like yours can spare.

But you’re never going to figure out what the next move is by whining.

It wouldn’t hurt to lose the arrogant attitude either.

Just some thoughts from the crab grass, Mr. Lazarus. Take them for what they’re worth.

(Thanks to Arthur K.)

48 Responses to “L.A. Times Columnist: Blogs Are Like “Crab Grass” Sprouting Everywhere”

  1. And yes, the pun was intended.

    Patterico (05fad0)

  2. Why don’t people want to pay for the L.A. Times? I don’t know for sure. Speaking strictly for myself, I refuse to subscribe because your paper irresponsibly published details of a classified and legal anti-terror program. But others have their own reasons.

    Out of curiosity did you read Prince of Darkness? If so, what are your thoughts about Novak’s reporting on Carter’s war plans in contrast to the NSA leak?

    As far as the blogs go, newspapers can do without blogs but blogs cannot do without the networks and news services because the blogs don’t have the reporting resources or money to go out and get the raw news. Blogs aren’t likely to go away and comments like Lazaraus’ are likely to continue.

    voice of reason (10af7e)

  3. “Lazarus gripes that teenagers will pay for .mp3s, but not for online newspaper subscriptions.”….perhaps they pay nothing for newspaper content because that is exactly what it is worth.

    Edward Lunny (85f233)

  4. 3, Edward, I agree. Sometimes the newspapers aren’t worth lining your pet’s “toilet”.

    PCD (f619dd)

  5. david lazarus usually writes a good column when he’s focusing on consumer versus corporation, i don’t know what happened here. limiting a customer’s choices in the journalism market seems anti-consumerist to me.

    soon, the line separating quality journalism from utter hokum will be too blurry to discern.

    yeah, but whose fault is that? funny stuff!

    patterico, your continuing existence as a blogger depends on a critical legal question which the supreme court hasn’t answered yet: do you have the same 1st amendment journalistic liberties as the people at the times? mr. lazarus represents the party that says no, you don’t. our country went the wrong way in the analogous field of religion, with the result that you and i are actually lower than scientologists. you can contribute 10% of your paycheck to the scientologists and the irs will let you deduct it from your taxable income; just try doing that with your generous donation to my “church of the big salmon”. that’s because some religions are recognized by the government and some are not, a scheme which protects the recognized religions at the expense of the others. the times people aspire to the exact same scheme; don’t let them have it!

    assistant devil's advocate (9dbe39)

  6. …perhaps they pay nothing for newspaper content because that is exactly what it is worth.

    One would think a business writer could grasp that basic economic concept.

    I wonder what he thinks of the editorial–one of several pathetically risible positions that led me to cancel my subscription–that claimed that parking valets are Victims of Capitalism and we should all park our own cars and release them from their chains. HAHAHAHAHA. That’s right, destroy their livelihoods in order to save them! Then I guess they would write stories about the increase in homeless guys on Skid Row, where they could rescue violin geniuses and stuff (good for circulation).

    Patricia (f56a97)

  7. Precisely.

    I was going to write about Lazarus’ cranky fuddy-duddy column, but you beat me to it. I liked Lazarus a lot at the Chronicle, where he beat up on consumer scams and evil empires. But he’s wearing the MSM blindfold about blogs and the MSM’s own faults. And now he’s just written another harrumphing column about blogs, in the mode of Michael Hiltzik (but without the dishonesty).

    Is it the water in the LAT building?

    Bradley J. Fikes (301756)

  8. When will Lazarus starts boasting about his four levels of editors?

    Bradley J. Fikes (301756)

  9. hmmmmmmm

    Lazurus use to work for the failing SF Chronicle, a classic liberal operation in San Francisco. If he moved to Los Angeles he forgot his brain transplant.

    Crusader 007 (9f4d2e)

  10. Lazarus did very good work at the Chronicle. Nearly all his columns were focused on consumer business issues. That’s where he added value. An editor should have told him, “Try again. We’re paying you to help consumers, not to waste space bloviating and pontificating. Sam won’t be impressed.”

    Bradley J. Fikes (301756)

  11. Another journalist whining about the irresponsible bloggers? Why doesn’t Lazarus spend his time castigating the charlatans in his profession who are as bad–if not worse–than those “unprofessional” bloggers. I read blogs with a jaundiced eye, but at least I know where they are coming from and they don’t pretend to be objective. Journalists, OTOH, pretend to objectivity while they sneer at their readers and lecture them about what they should & shouldn’t think. Maybe that’s why they are losing subscribers.

    sharon (99ccf7)

  12. Lazarus had a captive audience at his former high school but he still couldn’t convince them it’s a good idea to pay for online information the way they pay for music. (And one admitted he doesn’t pay for music if he can find it free.) This says a lot more about the future of newspapers than it does about the next generation. It tells me that Lazarus is swimming against the tide.

    I understand someone like Lazarus who works for a newspaper feels protective about his profession and it’s hard to see it change. But the reality is print journalism faces a challenge similar to what happened when TV news became prominent. Newspapers will have to streamline and/or change, and a few may not survive. I think that last option is what really worries Lazarus.

    DRJ (09f144)

  13. Electronic ether? Are we operating on a toaster, doctor?

    Possibly he means “aether”…

    mojo (8096f2)

  14. From the article:

    I’m scratching my head trying to come up with another financially challenged industry that found salvation by charging people nothing for its output.

    Radio and television.

    Perfect Sense (b6ec8c)

  15. If you’re supplying something people want to pay for, people will pay for it. If you aren’t, they won’t…. (and) We are all in the midst of an Internet revolution that none of us completely understands.

    In analyzing what ails the newspaper industry, one has to realize that they’ve never focused on giving people what they wanted. Large numbers of people bought newspapers not for the Pulitzer winning front page content and editorials the journalists thought so valuable, but for the comics, sports scores, movie listings, weather and classifieds. Journalists’ salaries were subsidized by people (and, by extension, advertisers) who had no choice but to buy the whole paper in order to get the information that they really wanted.

    And now that the public can turn to other sources, both free and better, for the information they want, editors are left with the relatively few people who actually think it’s worth 50 cents or so a day to get whatever the LAT or NYT puts on the front page and the rantings of the Dowds and Krugmans. It’s not so much that the papers are less accurate or partisan now than they used to be, it’s that readers are now able to indulge their gripes (such as with what they believe to be inaccuracies and biases) by dropping the paper and getting the information they want from other sources.

    Unfortunately for them, they (still) can’t admit they weren’t the hot thing they thought they were, that their million plus circulations weren’t due to their brilliant writing. As a result, they are lashing out at the wrong targets and coming up with solutions that are destined to fail because they don’t address the underlying source of the falloff in newspaper circulation. It’s not so much that blogs and YouTube has stolen their thunder, it’s that they never had the thunder in the first place.

    And the flip side is that bloggers shouldn’t get credit for helping this along, for one can’t take away customers who weren’t there in the first place. Give the credit (or blame) to, Fandango, Ebay, Craig’s List and so on; it’s their success that has taken readers and advertisers away from the MSM, and not the writings and rantings of guys typing away in their mom’s basement, still in their pajamas.

    Interestingly, were papers ever to get off their high horse and figure out what the public wants to pay for, the result will probably be an even more biased and partisan product than what is now being put out. If those foaming at the mouth want red meat, and don’t care about whether it is accurate, and are willing to pay good money for it, then some enterprising editor is going to decide to give the ‘public’ just what the public wants.

    steve sturm (40e5a6)

  16. I may be all wet, but it appears to me that the writer is conflating being a newspaper reporter with intellectual property rights.

    Pat R. (490a09)

  17. The future of newspapers (1st Amendment permitting):
    If it moves, tax it;
    If it keeps moving, regulate it;
    If it stops moving, subsidize it.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  18. as much as i hate the Times, we’d still be getting it if their delivery people, the customer service staff and the billing department hadn’t honked off 2H6 once too often with their rampant stupidity and institutional arrogance……

    now that we don’t it’s unlikely we’ll ever go back. (YAY! %-)

    redc1c4 (39c24a)

  19. “Lazarus gripes that teenagers will pay for .mp3s, but not for online newspaper subscriptions.”

    Papers are more entertainment than news, with the entertainment usually sold being reassurance to aging socialists that they don’t have to bear their shame alone. Teens don’t care about that.

    ras (fc54bb)

  20. Has Lazarus’ M.O. changed from his award-winning days at the Chronicle? His columns generally seem stunningly underresearched and rely on anecdotes and personal encounters (e.g., with a bunch of high school kids). He combines elitist condescension (e.g., his brave first-ever foray into a Wal-Mart) with populist grievance (evil insurance companies and utilities are a standard target), and adds a healthy dose of unsophisticated cluelessness (we can solve traffic jams with monorails through the drainage channels!). At least Steve Lopez only relies on the second of these with regularity. He needs a better editor and a boot off the Business section.

    David (b80551)

  21. ” the blogs don’t have the reporting resources or money to go out and get the raw news. ”

    I don’t think this is correct. For example, Kevin Drum, a lefty blogger now at Washington Monthly, researched the Bush Air National Guard story in the spring of 2004. I don’t agree with his politics but he did a better job than CBS. Michelle Malkin has also done real reporting. Michael Yon and Michael Totten are both bloggers supported by readers (including me) who are the best sources of news about Iraq and Lebanon.

    I think we will see more of this in the future as news disassociates from the other features of newspapers. Another model is People will pay for news that is perceived as valuable. It would be interesting to learn how many supporters Yon and Totten have.

    Mike K (6d4fc3)

  22. Mike K

    Where do they get their raw news? The current state of the blogosphere is that most of it is commentary or interpretation on news reported by the networks and newspapers.

    I’m not sure what you consider real reporting as you attribute to Malkin – driving by the Frost residence and flying to Iraq for a couple of days hardly makes her a steady source of raw news. The Bush research you mention was to research the news presented at the time and to expose the documents as fake. He was handed the news and managed to find it lacking.

    I do like your stratfor example but the day that newspapers, networks and cable are replaced is a very long way off.

    voice of reason (10af7e)

  23. I dropped my subscription to The Oregonian because I no longer trusted them. It is as simple as that.

    It is not that I ever expected perfection as I realize that deadlines often come before all parts of a story can be checked out and so errors are not only going to occur, but occur quite frequently; and I don’t care what they write on their editorial pages as I don’t have to believe or agree with it. However, in far too many instances they were attempting to pass off as news what belonged in the editorial section. Time after time I would start to read a story and quickly discover that it was nothing more than an agenda driven bit of propaganda which meant that I would have to go to the internet to check out the story if I wanted to know any actual facts. I finally became angry enough to cancel my subscription and I had read that paper from the time I learned to read, something on the order of fifty years.

    Basically they have lost all sense of objectivity. If they like a politician they will cover for him by not publishing negative stories about him, but if they dislike him, nothing is too bad to print even though the facts may be in dispute. By the time I canceled they had turned into little more than shills for the Democrats and the environmental movement. Cover for the Democrats where possible, advance any environmental issue no matter how silly. And it is not that I think all Democrats are evil and wrong, and that all Republicans are good and true, but rather that there are misguided or dishonest members in both parties, and probably in about equal numbers. Yet if you read the Oregonian that is not the impression you will get. The same holds true of the environmental movement. There are some really bright people in it, but there are also some who are both intellectually and morally challenged.

    The only good thing was that their reporters are not very clever at hiding their biases and it was normally quite easy to spot what was going on, provided you paid attention. Papers such as the New York Times are much better at passing their propaganda off as news with the L.A. Times somewhere in between.

    Like you, I also decry the arrogance of newspapers taking it upon themselves to be the judges and juries of whether or not to publish information which affects national security. I doubt that they would enjoy living under the conditions which would be imposed by those such breaches of security help. Of course they hide under the mantle of free speech, but free speech means nothing when it is taken away from you by your enemies.

    In the end I realize that it is impossible for anyone to be completely unbiased in the way they report stories, but that does not mean that the news industry should not make an effort to strive for that condition. While they can never achieve it, they can come much closer than they do and I would be happy with that. There are going to be many times that items in the news adversely affect some of my opinions, but I will happily accept that as long as I see such a standard being applied to other’s opinions. I don’t want a media that agrees with me, but I do want a media that presents news as fairly and accurately as possible. Only when I have good information am I able to form or change my opinions to better reflect what I think needs to be done. I bitterly resent the news media thinking they are so smart that only their views should prevail.

    Unlike many I don’t wish to see the MSM fail. Instead I would like to see them improve their product because they provide a necessary product, one which blogs are ill equipped to replace. People like Lazarus miss the whole problem because they cannot see that what blogs are doing is pointing out the failings of MSM, and that if they would do a better job at their own jobs there would be little for blogs to complain about. Until they grasp that point I see little chance for them to improve themselves.

    Fritz (61ba15)

  24. Fritz,

    This member of the MSM thinks you said it precisely right.

    Patterico grows some pretty high-quality crabgrass!

    Bradley J. Fikes (301756)

  25. “Where do they get their raw news? The current state of the blogosphere is that most of it is commentary or interpretation on news reported by the networks and newspapers.”

    Yon has been embedded in Iraq with the military since shortly after the invasion. Totten has lived in Lebanon and travels all over there all the time. Both are delivering raw news.

    You are wrong about Drum’s work. I used to support his blog. He heard about the TANG story months before the 60 Minutes debacle. I suspect he heard from the same source that fed Mary Mapes the crap they put on TV. Drum went down to Texas and interviewed some of the principles. This was all before the 60 Minutes story. Drum, who is a lefty, spent several weeks on it and concluded that, in site of his personal loathing of Bush, there was no provable story. You are confusing him with Charles Johnson and the others who demolished the CBS story before the program was off the air. Drum did original investigation and concluded the story wasn’t there.

    As far as Michelle Malkin is concerned, it is de riguer to attack her but she does some of her own reporting. So does Captains Quarters, who was the most reliable source for Canadians about their own government for a while a couple of years ago when scandals. were being covered up.

    Im not saying all bloggers are reporters. I’m saying there are examples of what a new media reporting would look like.

    Mike K (6d4fc3)

  26. voice of reasons writes: “The current state of the blogosphere is that most of it is commentary or interpretation on news reported by the networks and newspapers.”

    The reality is that the networks and newspapers are doing the same thing for the bulk of their content. The networks and newspapers do little original reporting, mostly repeating copy from the few wire services. That’s their problem, no value added.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  27. Mike R,

    Who pays for the wire services? If you see publishing the address of a 12 year old boy (in the past it used to be called shooting the messenger) news so be it – I don’t see that as “journalism” I need or want.

    At this point bloggers stop blogging if the media is not there to feed them raw news.

    voiceofreason (0d7120)

  28. SPQR,
    And at this point the blogosphere is more of an echo chamber than a viable alternative, in my opinion.
    People generally flock to blogs with people who tend to agree with them. It may change later but I think that is an accurate picture of the current state.

    voiceofreason (0d7120)

  29. voiceofreason, your comments don’t distinguish the blogosphere from the MSM.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  30. SPQR,
    I hadn’t considered it that way but you have a point. I rely on a variety of print and internet news sites for most of my news. Haven’t watched network news in quite sometime now.
    The only difference for the blogs is the interactive aspect which is kind of like watching otherwise civil people at times exhibit surprisingly vicious acts of road rage – maybe thread rage?

    voiceofreason (0d7120)

  31. Perhaps our esteemed host can send Mr Lazarus an autographed print copy of the 2007 Dog Trainer Year in Review, on which he is doubtlessly working even as I type. 🙂

    Dana (556f76)

  32. In high school journalism class many, many, many moons ago,I was told that the basics of any good news story were Who, What, When, Where and Why? I’d say that Why was in 5th place for a reason.

    But down at the Daily Dog Trainer, the editors have long since abandoned any attempt at editing (stories allowed to run on forever) or pretense at objectivity (can you distinguish between a “news story” and an editorial at the LAT?).

    But with their vaunted 4 levels of editing, they can’t even get the “where” part down right. An insert in today’s LAT insert mentioned a number of restaurants, night spots etc. with puffy fluffy reviews about various restaurants. One caught my eye–about a “home girls” cafe somewhere downtown. Looked like a good place to go for a breakfast somewhere near the courthouse, sheriff’s station etc.

    Only one problem–after writing a good review of an interesting place, the “crack reporter” reviewing the restaurant failed to mention the restaurant’s address!

    Flat flipping FUBAR reporting–the dear departed Mrs. Mott who taught me high school journalism in the late 1950s would have given the dog trainer’s reporter an “F”. She might have given the same grade to the vaunted four levels of editors who let this howler slip through.

    Mike Myers (31af82)

  33. Well, if that restaurant wanted the public to know its’ address, they would have taken out an ad. Can’t have any free media here, can we?

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  34. Crab grass gets a bad rap because it has an ugly name. No one would have a problem with it if they called it something cute, like “elf grass.”

    Xrlq (b65a72)

  35. Pajama grass.

    DRJ (09f144)

  36. “…the basics of any good news story were Who, What, When, Where and Why? I’d say that Why was in 5th place for a reason.”

    By “why”, my teachers meant factual material, not ideologically-based interpretations. But then, I am over 50 so I was in grade school when most teachers actually were worth their salary.

    pst314 (49bdf5)

  37. I grew up reading newspapers every day. I cancelled my newspaper subscription when I lost confidence in the accuracy and honesty of the reporting. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the availability of free online news. I have heard many, many similar stories, but David Lazarus does not want to consider this because it threatens his self-image. Journalists like him have nobody to blame but themselves. Nobody.

    pst314 (49bdf5)

  38. steve sturm #17,

    I agree, and said the same thing in this post.

    Patterico (5f4685)

  39. I have a challenge for the LACrimes. Charge for your online columns and features separately. You will quickly find out what the public will pay for and what it won’t.

    If the LACrimes was an honest institution, which it isn’t, it would then post what articles and features were purchased and how often. My money would say that most of their columnists and biased reporters would generate few, if any, sales.

    PCD (4361f0)

  40. P: ah, that must be where I got the great idea…

    steve sturm (40e5a6)

  41. If #34 Mike Myers checks back on this link, since his comment was posted yesterday afternoon, the Home Girls Cafe mentioned in the LAT is probably the one connected to HomeBoy Industries.

    It’s on North Broadway just north of Chinatown in LA, on the way to Lincoln Heights. Going north on NoBro it’s on your right. I think the elevated Metro crosses the road at that point, so look for it around there. Hey, and let us know if it’s good, I’ve been curious about it and some new business might be bringing me to that area regularly (crossing fingers).

    Happy & Healthy ’08 to Patterico & friends!

    Geo W (e85b80)

  42. If you were to take a random blog and a random paper, you’d do better on the news with the paper.

    But some of the big blogs provide information and analysis that the papers don’t do. Volokh does a better job of Supreme Court coverage than any newspaper. Patterico does a better job on LA crime and punishment – on those things he covers -than the papers do.

    If blogs are worthless, then their readers are idiots. That’s a lot of idiots.

    The MSM is necessary; they still provide the vast majority of actual reporting. Lots of that reporting is worthwhile. Some papers won’t run all the stories, so to learn more you can go to this blog or other blogs (including lefty blogs) to find things out. You’ve got to confirm this stuff – and news stories are often good for that -but blogs get the information out.

    I agree with Pat: The whiny tone is especially tiresome. People tend to get deluded by their own self-interest, and we see this incredible amount of whining. It’s good to see some folks, like Mr. Fikes, who are sensible about the issue.


    JRM (355c21)

  43. hey Geo W.!

    if you’re in that area, the best food is @ Ciro’s over on Evergreen south of Wabash.
    yeah, that’s actually Boyle Heights, but we’re just talking a few blocks.

    redc1c4 (39c24a)

  44. My darling bride (of 28 years, 7 months and 11 days), very much against my wishes, got our younger daughter a rabbit for Christmas. Said younger daughter asked me to go get a newspaper for her this morning, not to read, but to line the bunny cage.

    Subsequently, the aforementioned darling bride said that she was going to get a subscription to the newspaper, apparently to have material with which younger daughter can line the rabbit cage.

    Question: Should we get the local newspaper (the Allentown, Pennsylvania, Morning Call), or would we get better quality rabbit cage lining were we to take a mail subscription to The Los Angeles Times?

    This is a hugely important question, because we want to insure that the bunny raisins get the best treatment possible!

    Dana (556f76)

  45. Dana, a serious question which deserves a serious answer.

    As I see it, the answer to your question of which paper to use as cage liner comes down to what kind of personality does the rabbit have. If the rabbit is a sort of laid back and friendly, likes people, and is generally happy I would recommend the local paper. If, on the other hand, the rabbit is stuck up, pretentious, arrogant, and does not like or respect people, then by all means it deserves the LA Times as cage-liner material.

    Fritz (89790e)

  46. Fritz, I certainly thank you for those obviously wise considerations! As of now, Herr Hosenphefer seems rather afraid of people, but I don’t know that I’d call it pretentious or arrogant.

    The cats are afraid of the rabbit. I have tried to explain the difference between “carnivore and hunter” and “herbivore and prey” to the cats, to little avail.

    Dana (556f76)

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