Friday, February 09, 2018

That New York Times Piece About Los Angeles: Symptomatic of a Larger Problem?


Every time I want to once again support the New York Times, the paper comes up with a story like this. And so my money continues to go to the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and a few other journalistic outlets. But NYT, why is Los Angeles still such a mystery to you, in the year 2018?

"For all its successes, Los Angeles has not developed the political, cultural and philanthropic institutions that have proved critical in other American cities." — No, Los Angeles didn't turn into New York. (Although, with so much being built in downtown and elsewhere, it's sure moving into that direction.) But it was never going to be — it's an entirely different kind of city, something that the LA Times' architecture writer Christopher Hawthorne recently wrote as an attempt to explain how the NYT ruffled so many feathers:
People who are accustomed to making quick sense of the world, to ordering it into neat and sharply defined categories, tend to be flummoxed by both places. And reporters at the New York Times are certainly used to making quick sense of the world. If there's one reason the paper keeps getting Los Angeles so spectacularly wrong, I think that's it. Smart, accomplished people don't like being made to feel out of their depth. Los Angeles makes out-of-town reporters feel out of their depth from their first day here.

Their reaction to that feeling, paradoxically enough, is very often to attempt to write that feeling away — to conquer that sense of dislocation by producing a story that sets out to explain Los Angeles in its entirety. Because it's a challenge, maybe, or because they simply can't be convinced, despite all the evidence right in front of them, that Los Angeles, as cities go, is an especially tough nut to crack.

But of course, it's hard not to see where things went so wrong in the story. Equating "the turmoil at The Times" with the retirement of Eli Broad, for one. Or this: The idea that the problem is there are many cities in Los Angeles County. (Doesn't New York have plenty of suburbs as well?) "People here are more likely to identify themselves with the city or neighborhood where they live — be it Glendale, Compton, Beverly Hills or Whittier — rather than Los Angeles" — but again, that's true everywhere. In NYC, don't you say you live in Brooklyn, Queens, the Village, Hoboken or wherever? We're ultimately all still Angelenos in SoCal — driving on the same freeways, going to the same stores, looking at the same skyline, rooting for the same teams. We all know that our tacos are what really make New Yorkers jealous.

I mean, I don't even know where to begin. Watch Nathan Masters' "Lost LA" series on KCET. Go through the archives of L.A. Observed. Eat at a few Jonathan Gold-recommended restaurants. Check out the Natural History Museum's "Becoming L.A." exhibit. And I invite the authors of this piece to join us in November for the 13th annual Great Los Angeles Walk.

Honestly, this piece seems to be a part of the larger trend of the NYT continuing to focus on the contrarian — Los Angeles as foreign, in need of help; and of course, its obsession with focusing on angry white voters, the ones who elected Trump, rather than the majority of voters (like African American women) who voted against him, and have their own stories to tell. In all these cases, there's a story to tell, yet the paper is asking the wrong questions. In the case of the decline of the Los Angeles Times, it was years of negligence by out-of-town owners, some really bad decisions and an overall changing media environment that hurt the paper — not a confusing metropolis. The question isn't why the City of Los Angeles couldn't support the L.A. Times, it's how the decline of the L.A. Times has impacted the City of Los Angeles. (And as a sidebar, how the L.A. Times has managed to still pull off some amazing scoops in the past few years despite the utter incompetence of its owner.)

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