Monday, June 25, 2007

Blogging Must Be Provocative Or It Is Nothing

The L.A. Times attempt at front-section blogging in Sunday's newspaper, by Don Frederick and Andrew Malcolm, was bland, uninteresting, unsuccessful and not consistent with good blogging as I understand it. It is everything the Times should not be doing.

The whole idea of a blog is that it say something that is highly opinionated and quite often outrageous. This can still be tasteful in its own way, a little like the writing of Aleksandyr Solzhenitsyn. His books are often tantamount to early examples of blogging. No one could ever say Solzhenitsyn was bland. And he has something to say.

The 2008 presidential campaign -- about which Sunday's Times blog was written -- is already shaping up as an epic story. The blogging about it should not be pedestrian. It has to be done from distinct points of view, or it simply will not appeal to the public. And it should convey the kind of inside information that Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report have provided with their "periscope" features. which are not always reliable either.

I'm not saying the Times should not be running blogs, far from it. But if it's going to do so, the bloggers should be (1) worth reading, (2) have some edge, and (3) be on a very loose leash. In other words, we can't have the stifling editors who have too often in the past kept the paper from being intersting by nitpicking every point.

Malcolm was a good writer when he was doing editorials, humorous and occasionally sensitive. But he is not a blogger. He seldom has original thoughts, a little like Ron Brownstein. As for Frederick, he is a competent political editor, and maybe he should stick to that.

The Times, if it is going to run blogs, is going to have to come up with provocative bloggers. It doesn't seem to have too many on the staff at the moment. Steve Lopez could do a good blog, but he's probably too busy with his column. (Lopez's suggestion that Jesus would have flown coach to Rome for the Papal Convocation, instead of first class the way Cardinal Mahony did is just what is good in commentary, a blog or otherwise).

Dan Weintraub has had a successful blog for the San Jose and Sacramento papers. The Times in essence fired him when he proved his independence by challenging the defunct editor, Carole Stogsdill on a visit she made to Sacramento. A good blogger is probably not going to get along too well with his editors.

So maybe this will some day be the new Times. But Sunday's example by Frederick and Malcolmn does not get us very far along that road.


An excellent first person account, and a perceptive piece about modern China, appeared Sunday in the New York Times Week In Review by David Barboza about the hours he and his photographer and translator were detained at a toy factory when he went to inquire about its practice of putting lead in its paint, which in the Thomas & Friends train sets marketed in this country has endangered the well being of countless American children. The trains containing the dangerous paint have had to be recalled and many parents, and those of us who bought toys for our grandchildren, are very much concerned.

This story appeared under the headline, "My Time as a Hostage, And I'm a Business Reporter."

Barboza's experience raised questions just how powerful the Chinese government and police are, when it comes to reining in unscrupulous business men, the wild entrepreneurs who more than anyone are making China a great world power.

Barboza remarks, specifically, "Factory bosses, I would discover, can overrule the police, and Chinese government officials are not as powerful as you might suspect in a country addicted to foreign investment."

Finally, when the reporter was released, he writes, "and while our translator was giving an account of the day to the police, the factory bosses were laughing and dining in another room, making the nexus of power in these parts and in this age ever more clear."

This was splendid first person reporting, of the kind that Borzou Daragahi and Megan Stack have recently done on their experiences in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, respectively,for the L.A. Times, and all these pieces show the power of such writing. The newspapers should run more of them.



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