Monday, December 10, 2007

Technology Trumps Our Time; LAT Ignores It

Time magazine recently devoted a goodly slice of an entire issue to new inventions and technology for just this year, 2007. It said the best new thing was Apple's IPOD.

Meanwhile, Japan and China have spacecraft orbiting the Moon, photographing and studying it for a year, preparatory to robotic landings there. A combined Indian-Russian Moon orbiter is set to go next year, as is an American moon orbiter. It's not just pie-in-the-sky science. The scientists and space engineers of all five countries are looking forward to exploiting the Moon's resources, even mining the moon for compounds, such as Helium-3 that could be moved by shuttle to the Earth in sufficient amounts to provide electricity for the entire planet. Moon bases, when established, probably in the 2020s, will soon show practical accomplishments, incorporating the Moon into Earth's system of life and civilization. Our grandchildren will live in a different Solar System.

The New York Times devoted a long article in Sunday's paper to Honda's development of a hydrogen-powered car. the FCX Clarity. The first models will be leased on an experimental basis to Californians this year, and planners are already looking forward to infrastructure, providing hydrogen fuel stations either at home or on the highways. The headline on the article by Norman Mayersohn began, "Hydrogen Car Is Here..." The new model will have a range of 270 miles, better than present battery-electric cars and get the equivalent of 68 miles a gallon. Take that, OPEC.

I wish I could report that my favorite newspaper, (and my employer for 39 years), the Los Angeles Times, was moving with the flow, establishing a full fledged science section and assigning new science reporters to keep up with some of the most significant, and hopeful, developments of our time.

But no. David Hiller, the import from Chicago, seems as publisher to be far more interested in celebrity coverage, glitzy sections like Image and Envelope, than he is in providing the hard news of how we are going to cope as a society with technological and natural challenges. Hiller supervises an editorial page that recently had a long editorial advocating half-assed measures to deal with global warming. The same editorial page has opposed using nuclear power, which in the long run is far safer for the world than burning fossil fuels. Hiller would rather the readers look at a girl's navel than the latest car, or spacecraft.

I fear, in short, they are not looking forward at the L.A. Times.

But the New York Times certainly is. Its weekly Science section is a model, while at the L.A. Times one of the first things the Tribune Co. did when it took over the Times in 2000 was to abolish the weekly Science page and farm out its diligent, dedicated editor, Joel Greenberg, to graphics.

Maybe, there is some hope, because a new Metro editor, David Lauter, has shown imagination in reassigning beats and promoting some talented personnel, such as Matt Lait, to editing. But so far, I may have missed it, but I don't think Lauter has moved to enhance science and technology coverage.

It used to be that such science writers as Lee Hotz, Usha McFarling, Tom Maugh and others had great space to appear in. For a long time, Section two, the Metro section, ran a lot of science, and science stories often appeared on Page 1. There's little such space these days. The first Tribune-appointed editor, John Carroll, seemed scarcely interested in science, and when he rearranged the paper, forming the California section for most state and local news, there was negligible space left for science coverage.

Recently, there are science briefs. Even with the natural sciences, such as earthquakes, which are relatively frequent in California, coverage has dropped off. Talented columnists, like Steve Lopez, seldom write about scientific progress. Lopez, for one, seems preoccupied instead with establishing new bureaucracies of traffic control to implement toll roads and congestion pricing -- ideas that would make Los Angeles life miserable. (But I was glad to see consumer columnist David Lazarus on Sunday writing about "big ideas" for the future of L.A. transit -- monorails and subways -- even if Lopez has given up.)

The emphasis of the Times should change, and quickly. The world is moving forward, and any decent newspaper must keep in step.

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