LA Times Readers Pooh-Pooh About News Ethics, But Choke On Own Word-Vomit (Hypocrits)

(left: fake, more interesting front page; right: real, more important front page)

So the big brouhaha over in Orange Peel land is the LA Times’ decision to make life more interesting for its readers by publicly announcing its support for NBC with a giant faux front page, hawking the new L&O show.

Imaginary Scenario:
: Holy shit! Smashed glass and grisly crime scene tape! Boy is this gonna be one juicy read!
*quickly buys paper and rifles through it, looking for story of mass disorder and devastation*
LA Times: JUST KIDDING! Now here’s your daily dose of boredom with the real headline: Brown and Whitman go head to head. Innuendo absolutely intended. Get it? This is juicy too, no?

Due to a massive negative reaction, the Times then ran a reader response section on its website, highlighting scathing comments from readers, who felt conned into buying the newspaper. I understand the outrage, really. If I, as an unsubscribed news consumer, picked up the LA Times solely for that article—then yes, I’d feel betrayed and “punk’d” too. But I don’t think it’s really necessary for people who already subscribe to the paper to feel shammed over it.

Yes, it’s low.
Yes, the paper has earned the title of “brown noser.”
Yes, it’s desperate.

But did the paper reduce anything? Did it replace any important stories for this ad?

So subscribers are essentially getting one extra newspaper page to use for house-training their dogs or something. If anyone has a right to be in an uproar, it should be the environmentalists.

And honestly, what does that say about the people who ONLY bought the paper for that story? Would they have even bought the paper for the real news? You know, the stuff that actually affects our lives?

One reader wrote:

“Let me be one of the first to express my total support for ad revenue any way you can get it, including selling a cover of your front page, presumably for an unusually large sum of money. I hope all Times readers realize the financial pressures on all print media today and, like me, hope the day never comes when we have to get our Times on a digital reader.”

While “support ad revenue any way you can get” sounds a little too ambitious and sneaky, I think what most people are forgetting here is that not only is the print medium about to drown, but the LA Times is a member of the Tribune family, which is currently entangled in a two-year bankruptcy litigation.

Can you blame a brotha’ for being desperate??

What this incident proves is that obviously selling an ad spot that takes up the entire front page, an ad that happens to look identical to a real front page, is a big mistake. It’s a mistake that got people to buy the paper, but at the cost of the paper’s integrity. According to the outraged.

But what gets me even more than the upset of people who bought the paper only for the more interesting article is that this isn’t the first time the LA Times has run a full front page ad before!

The NYT wrote a little something about it back in March, and one quote from an LA Times reporter just about sums it all:

“People are worried about what it does with the brand, the paper’s name,” said one reporter who, like his colleagues, insisted on anonymity to speak critically of his employer. “On the other hand, it’s money that we badly need.”

Further Reading:
L.A. Times Replaces Front Page With Fake ‘Law & Order’ News; L.A. Times Readers Really Pissed


A Blog Perspective

This article from the SFweekly confirms that old-as-time complaint that the media only publishes bad news.

Kind of.

That is only half of the double-edged sword that becoming duller as the internet emerges as the number one news source for many people.

A Pew Research study showed that when it comes to tech & gadgets, traditional news media like newspapers and tv focus more on the companies behind them and the lasting effect those things will have on us.

In contrast, social media focuses on the immediacy of such products and are generally more positive about advancing technology.

It seems that traditional and new media are on opposite ends of the spectrum here, and it makes sense. The foundation of new media IS new technology—twitter, mobile apps, facebook likes—all of these advances that promote speed and personal interaction make it inevitable for focus to shift to the bourgeoning field. Is it any wonder that bloggers and users of social media, whose existences (and payrolls, in some cases) are vested in the advance of this type of media, choose to focus on the obstacles of technological progress rather than the big bad companies behind them?

And here stands also another dilemma, the eternal quest to weed out real news from the impostors. New technology brings with it the quandary of how news consumers can disseminate fact from opinion. Of course, this also means that the tools for fact-checking are much better and easier to obtain, but how many people actually go the extra step to do so? Does new technology foster skeptical laziness?

Yesterday I watched the pilot episode of Boardwalk Empire, and there’s a scene in which Angela Darmody says to her husband, “They couldn’t write it if it wasn’t true,” talking about the newspaper he was reading. This represents the idea that traditional media journalists and reporters actually get out and do the research, and this is what makes the platform trustworthy and reliable. It makes sense that newspapers and television would focus on company sponsoring when, for obvious reasons, new media is killing it.

There’s this conception that newspapers have remained the number one source of information through the invention of radio and tv, and will therefore remain the last standing beacon of truth for news consumers wading through the murky waters of unreliability and uncertainty. However, this stoicism seems passe now with advertising thrown into the field.

And yet, the news consumer needs to know about potential lasting effects of new tech, or as it would seem, the “negativity” of advancement. So how can a balance between the two be created on social media sites, when anyone can publish anything? New technology has opened the pandora box of unanswered questions and problems.

I agree that tech bloggers don’t give as much attention to the forces behind the product as they should, but I also don’t think print can hold onto its spot in the information speed race.

NY Mag casts off the “New York” part of it’s name in favor of hipster “Culture Vulture” web-appendage

With the tagline “Devouring Culture,” NY Mag debuted the web-based Vulture on Tuesday. The site is supposed to be a revolutionarily harmonic combination of both “high and low” culture, and “will serve as a home for criticism, commentary, news and aggregation from New York’s bloggers and critics.

Not that the editors at NYMag are about 4 years behind, or anything.

Gawker has been ripping the entertainment industry a new one for a while now.

So, why the buzz? Probably because this qualifies the desperation need for a new source of income. Thanks to market research, NYMag found that people care more about last week’s Mad Men recap and Joel McHale’s value in Hollywood than, you know, the other entertainment news that already permeates NYMag’s home site. Editors want to disassociate themselves with the “NY” label in order to get more advertising and gain a broader readership spectrum.

New York’s publisher, Lawrence C. Burstein, said the kinds of advertisers he hoped to attract with the site — luxury goods, beauty products, movie studios and television networks like Showtime, Bravo and HBO — were responding well so far.

“Culture Vulture” seems a bit to obsequious to me, but hey, someone’s gotta pay the bills, right? This is just another example of media struggling to get the attention of advertisers. Granted, this is an entertainment outlet, so it’s not like we’re seeing the fall of hard journalism or anything. What is particularly interesting to me will be if Vulture can actually turn a profit (which is projected for the coming year) against other criticism collaboration sites that already have a foothold. And if Vulture can actually draw a national audience.

Further Reading:
Culture Vulture Stands Alone– NYT Media Decoder
42-Year-Old ‘New York’ Magazine to b Profitable “Next Year”– The Awl