Writer, Editor, Author

Tag: Los Angeles Times

Ways to stay atop the news in the social media era

I used to love to read newspapers, the bigger the better. As a journalism student in the late 1980s and early 1990s — before the internet — each newspaper was different in some way or another. The big guns, like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, were thick, juicy sources of knowledge. And they were produced daily, each with hundreds of original articles written by professional journalists who had to work hard for the opportunity to write for those papers. It was always too much information to absorb — even a college-age brain can absorb only so much — but it was inspiring and exciting to know that this knowledge was out there and available for the reasonable price of 50 cents or maybe a dollar a day.

Twenty years into the internet age, that experience is much harder to come by. Each of those big papers has shrunk — some significantly — as more and more data has gone online. And even though it’s easier than ever to find any particular article or report, knowing what to search for has become harder than ever. Even skimming headlines in a newspaper, the editorial choices affected what you saw. What was on the front page and got big play mattered, all the way down to the smallest brief. Each article was chosen as the best way to fill the available space, and those choices affected the experience of everyone reading the paper. When a major event happened, you couldn’t miss it. And if you browsed through the whole paper, you usually got a very solid and interesting overview of what’s going on in the world.

I’ve found myself missing this experience of late. Like many, I’m sure, I was getting too much of my news from Facebook and other social media, or websites of my choosing that covered various topics. This is how bubbles are formed. My social media connections often are my connections because of shared experiences or viewpoints, meaning the same messages get reinforced as the same story — often from different sites — gets posted and reposted and commented on again and again. I found myself increasingly disconnecting from Facebook for that reason. I like the Trump jokes, but the cynicism that comes from seeing important news events through snarky commentary or overly earnest pleas for honesty became unsatisfying.

So I’ve been looking for ways to recreate a more focused and objective way to follow the news — both the big picture stuff we all should care about and the more specific stuff that I am personally interested in: movies, comics and guitars. Resubscribing to print seemed impractical, as I knew how often the papers delivered to my driveway went unread. So here are some of the digital tools I’ve found to develop a well-rounded news diet.

  • E-newspapers: It’s nothing new that newspapers have been making PDF versions of each day’s edition (or at least their front pages) on their website. But the new e-newspaper editions at the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times are a welcome evolution. The L.A. Times‘ e-newspaper appears to be a work in progress because it’s not the smoothest or most polished presentation. But it is an app that launches within your browser that lets you page through PDFs of each day’s paper, with links to jump to each section. But best of all, if you click on a story, it opens up in an easy-to-read window that clearly shows the photos and text in a continuous display that’s very easy to read. Better yet, there’s a “Next Article” link through which you can browse through every article in that day’s paper. Today’s edition has 128 articles over 46 pages, and each article can be shared, highlighted, printed, translated or read aloud. Again, it’s not perfect: Sometimes stories show up twice (once on the cover and once on the jump) and there’s the occasional formatting error that surely occurred when the copy was exported from the print production system to whatever is used for the e-newspaper. But it still is a focused way to read the paper and its content. The New York Times‘ version of this is similar but more polished in its function and presentation. Its e-newspaper allows you to scroll through all the articles in that day’s edition, with a sidebar listing headlines so you can jump to a specific story or section. I typically will scroll through all the articles in the Front Section, and then skim the World, Nation and Arts section. I can read through both papers in about a half hour, without generating trash, or getting ink on my hands, seeing all the photos and graphics in color with captions, and I can feel confident that I’ve got a basic idea of what’s going on in the world.
  • Email newsletters: These aren’t new either, but good ones are increasingly hard to find. My personal favorite is from The Week, which sends out a daily “10 things you need to know today” newsletter each morning. Like the magazine version, this is an extremely well edited summary of what’s going on, gathered from the best web sources all over the globe, and you can read it in a couple minutes. The New York Times (them again!) also have an excellent Daily Briefing email that goes out each morning and summarizes the day’s event and highlights some of the feature reporting in that day’s newspaper. There’s a fair bit of overlap, but I find reading The Week first allows me to avoid duplication and scroll through the Times‘ briefing to get the stories unique to that e-letter, backing up what I’ve already read.
  • RSS feeds: I used to rely heavily on a solid list of feeds and a good RSS reader. But in the era of social media, it seems like no one really talks any more about this simple but useful technology. I use Feedly, but I’m always on the lookout for a good, free (or very cheap) RSS reader for Mac, so if you have suggestions, let me know. One of the problems with feeds is they can be tough to manage. Smaller sites in particular can dry up and stop posting, leaving you with a dead link that has to be remembered to be routed out and deleted.

I’d love to hear how you keep up on the news, so please leave a comment or drop me a note at thomasjmclean@gmail.com. Thanks!

L.A.’s Comic-Con Bid Looking Up

It looks like we can expect an announcement soon on whether Comic-Con will be moving from San Diego and if so, where.

The field has been narrowed down to either Anaheim or Los Angeles, with advocates for both sides (as well as keeping it in San Diego) making their cases on various sites and on Facebook. (I think Las Vegas in the summer is a poor choice for a consumer-driven, family-oriented event. It has lots of hotel rooms, but with 100,000 people coming to town they won’t be cheap. Also, its convention center is isolated and has outdoor areas that won’t be comfortable to anyone in 105 degree July heat.)

Last week, a pretty impressive Facebook page promoting Los Angeles as the new home of Comic-Con was launched. It features some nice color drawings from Doug Davis, who does the editorial cartoons for The Downtown News. It also lays out a very confident and compelling case for Los Angeles as a good home for the convention. They did a good job of dispelling myths about the area that are easy to believe if you haven’t been in the area in a while.

I have spent a fair bit of time down at L.A. Live in the past six months, seeing movies at the new and excellent Regal Cinemas (all digital screens, great 3D), visiting the Grammy Museum, eating at the restaurants (The Yard House, Trader Vic’s, Fleming’s Steakhouse) and heading over to Staples Center to cheer on the Kings, who take on Vancouver in the first round of the NHL playoffs. Yes, this spot that once was a dirt parking lot next to the freeway has, especially with the opening of the new J.W. Marriott Hotel and the Ritz Carlton hotel and residences (I hear Hayao Miyazaki bought the penthouse for $10 million and made the builders customize the column placement to accommodate his feng shui requirements), is on its way to becoming a world-class entertainment district.

San Diego meanwhile has responded with movement on a plan to expand the convention center and add the space Comic-Con has been requesting.

But it seems to me that the Los Angeles bid is gaining momentum, with the professional Facebook page, my gut feeling that the San Diego move is too little too late and a comment from AEG Group President and CEO Tim Leiweke at a civic event late last week about pending announcements for major new conventions coming to town.

Here’s what I know about the comments: Leiweke made them last week before about a thousand people at the Central City Association’s Treasures of Los Angeles event held at the J.W. Marriott at L.A. Live. I was not at the event myself, but folks who were there have confirmed what he said. Leiweke said he didn’t want to steal the Convention Center’s thunder, but he was quite excited that announcements would soon be made that two of the nation’s largest conventions are coming to the Los Angeles Convention Center in the next three or four years.

That’s not much, obviously. It’s just a hint, and it’s easy to imagine that it’s confident bluster, or possibly referring to other shows. But it also fits with the timeline Comic-Con has announced for making its decision on whether to stay in San Diego or to move.

And my gut tells me this is going to happen. And I am the first to admit that my gut is not always right. But sometimes I’m not completely wrong, either.

But the more I think about it, the more I like the idea. L.A. is definitely preferably to Anaheim, which, with all due respect, is, outside of Disneyland, pretty dull and lacking in the nighttime amenities for parties, fine dining and hanging out that make San Diego and now L.A. so much fun. You can’t really walk from the convention center in Anaheim to a bunch of cool hotels or fun restaurants (unless Denny’s qualifies as a fun restaurant, which to me it does not). Plus, there already is a pretty massive year-round attraction in Disneyland that fills up the city’s hotels and restaurants pretty well, especially during summer.

Downtown Los Angeles, however, is definitely on the upswing. There still are some scary parts (Skid Row) not too far away, but most of the rest of the area from the Arts District to Little Tokyo to Broadway is blossoming with cool new restaurants, bars and restaurants.

Transportation has improved tremendously with the Metro, which will further be improved in the coming years with the regional connector and a modern streetcar route (like the one in Portland) set to be up and running in 2014. There’s a lot of parking in downtown, and it could use more hotels within walking distance, but public transit is making it easier to quickly commute from as far away Hollywood, Pasadena, Long Beach or even the Mid-City/Koreatown areas (and locations in between) — all of which offer interesting attractions in their own right.

The Los Angeles Convention Center itself will be a major change for the show, as its space is divided among three halls of various sizes, with a connecting passage over Pico. I don’t know where they would put the meetings, as it doesn’t appear to have as much meeting room space as San Diego, though the proximity of both the Nokia Theater and even Staples Center pose some interesting possibilities for replacing the makeshift Hall H with something both truly spectacular and large enough to handle the crowds. The facility itself may be the weakest part of this proposal, but it has played host to numerous E3 Expos as well as the 2007 Star Wars Celebration IV and been more than adequate.

But most of all, there is a feeling of confidence and competence in the Los Angeles effort lacking in the other campaigns. It feels like L.A. wants the show and is enthusiastic about it and has enough to offer the show to make it worth gambling on a move to L.A. San Diego, I think, has long taken the show for granted and it’s too late at this point for the city to come in and undo years of bad-mouthing the show and failing to address its concerns.

On a more personal note, this will be the first San Diego con I will have to miss since 1996. The reason is a family event that requires travel back east. And while I will definitely miss the convention, there is a part of me that’s maybe just a bit relieved that I won’t have to deal with the stress of conspiring to find a way into Hall H to see a movie panel or fight through the crowds to spend a few minutes chatting with very cool people I usually only get to see at Comic-Con. I plan to be back in 2011 and 2012, and then wherever the show leads in 2013.

Wolverine Reactions Trickle In

I’m seeing X-Men Origins: Wolverine tonight, so I’ll post my thoughts tomorrow. I’d largely been avoiding watching clips or reading too much about the film in buildup to its release.

But I have read a few reviews as they’ve come out: Variety and The Hollywood Reporter have little love for Logan’s solo outing. David Poland at The Hot Blog says it’s not great, but not bad either. And L.A. Times critic Kenneth Turan, whose review last week of The Soloist I couldn’t have disagreed with more, likes the film.

I also think it’s interesting that there is no ad for the movie’s opening in today’s Calendar section of the L.A. Times. Perhaps Fox feels the shrinking number of newspaper readers are not the target audience for this movie, which will surely score a nice large take at the box office.

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