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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 20 July 2005

Topic: Local Issues

Big Doings in Los Angeles: Hip is Out, Atheism In, and the Media is in Turmoil

Catapultam habeo. Isi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane.
(I have a catapult. Give me all the money, or I will fling an enormous rock at your head.)

Ah, it always about the money. The editor of the Los Angeles Times resigned today. The Times' own coverage opens with this: "Editor John S. Carroll, who led the Los Angeles Times to thirteen Pulitzer Prizes in five years as the newspaper struggled with declining circulation, announced his retirement today and will be succeeded by Managing Editor Dean P. Baquet."
Things haven't been the same since the Tribune group - the Chicago Tribune and the Cubs - bought the paper.

The city is changing. Baquet is an African-American who grew up in New Orleans. Our new mayor, Antonia Villaraigosa, is Hispanic - his folks came from Mexico in the days before we had the current armed citizen vigilantes (the Minutemen) watching the border. It's back to the good old days of our mayor back in the 1860s - Joseph Mascrael (Don Jose), born in Marseille in 1816 and fluent in French and Spanish but unable to manage English at all. See this about him from the Consulat Général de France à Los Angeles - "… capitaine de navire, immigré en 1844, maraîcher installé au nord de l'actuel Gower Street à Hollywood, ouvre un grand magasin en 1849, maire de Los Angeles de 1865 à 1866." (See this - in English - about how French Los Angeles really was in the old days.) The city is back to its multicultural roots.

But back to the Times. Over at Editor and Publisher we get some inside information about the problems:
The Times has cut positions and delayed editorial initiatives because of revenue shortfalls. In May, the paper reported that average daily circulation for the six-month period ending March 31 declined 6.5 percent, compared with the previous year.

... in recent years, the paper has taken a financial drubbing. Even when it won five Pulitzer Prizes in 2004, the second-most ever for a single paper in one year, the accolades were somewhat overshadowed. Two months after the Pulitzer sweep, Tribune Co. announced mandated layoffs of 200 employees, with the Times bearing the brunt. One hundred and sixty jobs were eliminated at the paper, including 60 editorial positions. Two-thirds of the departing journalists took voluntary buyouts.

In addition, two Times-owned newspapers in the nearby Inland Empire were shut down, while the Times national edition folded on Dec. 31, 2004.

The paper also took huge hits in circulation over the past two reporting periods. For the six months ending September 2004, daily circ slid 5.5% and Sunday dropped 6.3%. For the latest period, ending March 2005, daily copies decreased 6.4% and Sunday fell 7.9%. Total advertising revenue for the paper rose less than 1% in the second quarter of 2005.
Of course it didn't help that since April you would find not one advertisement for any General Motors product, or any display ad for any GM dealership, anywhere in the Times. The Pulitzer Prize winning car columnist Dan Neil on April 6 reviewed the new Pontiac G6 and said it was crap, and GM was producing crap, and said it colorfully. Oops. GM spent twenty million in the Times in 2004 and now....

But see this - "To my editors' everlasting credit, there hasn't been even a hint of reproval. As a public relations move, I think it's fair to say GM's ad-pulling did them more harm than good. My estimate is that perhaps two million or so people read the article than would have otherwise and the debate on GM's woes has been given another good public chewing. And I have been transformed from cranky columnist to St. George slaying the dragon." (The orginal G6 review is here and Neil is often mentioned in these pages as in this item and this item.)

His editor, John Carroll, may have paid the price for those dead dragons.

In any event, Kevin Roderick at LA Observed is covering the Times story - he used to work there - and he lists some first reactions.

Of course this is a local story of limited interest, but it is about the press and money and editorial decisions. What you cover and how you cover it can cost you. It's a mini-version of what was covered here earlier in News Notes: Non-Stories. Same thing.

Of course, the Times writers can be contrarians, as in this:

If it's hip and trendy, they're not interested
In an age saturated with microtrends, some people are turning their backs on cool.
Christian M. Chensvold, July 20, 2005

This may be more subversive than attacking General Motors, as after the requisite human interest anecdotal introduction (meet Melinda Wilferd), you get this:
The hypnosis of hipsterism is entrenched among many of L.A.'s urban sophisticates, especially those who work in the trend-driven industries of media, music and fashion. But for many twenty-, thirty- and fortysomethings, the appeal of being cool and edgy is rapidly deteriorating. "The last identity you would want to claim now is a hipster," says John Leland, author of "Hip: The History." "It's the worst of insults."

Just what is hip has become nebulous in a digital age of microtrends, when a cultural blip goes from underground to overexposed in one season. Likewise, the original concept of hip as something outside the purview of the mainstream has been replaced by the hipstream: mainstream cool packaged by corporate marketing departments.

The inevitable backlash - not against the bohemian veritas but the sycophantic consumer of cool - is well underway.

"The whole point of being hip in the pure sense of the word is to essentially be oblivious to it," says Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "Now the only thing you can describe a hipster as being is a 'hipster' in quotation marks. Almost by definition a hipster is a wannabe."
This backlash could destroy my neighborhood!

Chensvold too goes on to detail how hard it is to keep up with what's in and what not - and how people are just walking away from the whole concept of being on top of things. "So if everybody's hip, then let's be unhip, and indeed, what a very hip idea. Some people are just fed up with the whole enterprise."

The end of Los Angeles as we know it!

And note this from the world of New York hip:
Any hip community eventually becomes a parody of itself, says Robert Lanham, author of "The Hipster Handbook" (2002), which many perceived as a marketing gimmick put out by corporate media but which was, in fact, a skewering of Williamsburg hipsters by the 34-year-old humorist and co-founder of, a neighborhood blog and culture guide.

Lanham's follow-up, last year's "Food Court Druids, Cherohonkees, and Other Creatures Unique to the Republic," takes the parody a step further and includes a chapter on "cryptsters," or aging hipsters. "There's also this new breed of pseudo-bohemians or fauxhemians," says the author, "a facade of hipsters trying to play the bohemian role, but their parents are paying their rent."

Dropping out of the hipster scene has made Bernbaum use his time in more personally fulfilling ways, he says. "And it's a lot cheaper." The downside is that he's floating in social limbo. "The youth of New York is geared toward hipster things. I've just withdrawn from the people I didn't feel it was worth my time hanging out with. But I haven't really found an alternate world of people."
Well, Hollywood has always a parody of itself. In fact, the Just Above Sunset staff car for five years - the black Mercedes SLK convertible - was officially known as The Ironymobile. Its replacement, the Mini Cooper, has its own irony built in too. (Watch this movie and you'll see.)

What's the alternative to the useless hip (or would that be Tragically Hip) here in Los Angeles? The Times recommends Adrienne Crew's LA Brain Terrain with its calendars of literary, cultural, scientific and political events around town. And this:
In hipster and media-driven Los Angeles, it's easy to forget that most Angelenos ages 25 to 40 don't wear checkered Vans with distressed blazers or go to downtown gallery openings or Echo Park dive bars., once an underground website for hipsters seeking jobs and apartments, now boasts an activities section packed with people seeking irony-free social connections in such humdrum activities as chess, badminton, lacrosse, foreign language study, outrigger canoeing and the Hermosa Beach Lawn Bowling Club.

Best get involved now, before they become hip.
Well, that posits the idea that there is such a thing as an irony-free social connection. In Los Angeles? Really? And wouldn't lawn bowling down in Hermosa Beach be rife with irony, layers and layers of it?

Oh well.

But the Times is not just subversive on social matters - the requisite level of hip posturing needed to thrive here. They are on the story of atheists uniting to mount some kind of resistance to the evangelical, fundamentalist Christian fervor sweeping America. They actually write about such people!

A Time of Doubt for Atheists
With the religious making inroads in popular culture and politics, nonbelievers yearn for higher power in Washington.
Gina Piccalo, July 18, 2005

The set-up:
It's been years, decades even, since the Almighty was so hot.

The evidence is everywhere. President Bush rallied the faithful to hold on to the White House. A book by an Orange County preacher extolling God's purpose in our lives stays a bestseller for more than two years. And Hollywood, frequently seen as a den of iniquity, is courting a more spiritual audience in movies and TV.

Faith is the new must-have, evident when a major leaguer points skyward after his base hit, when a movie star credits the Big Guy for his Oscar, when the Justice Department backs the display of the Ten Commandments at two state capitols, and when it defends the Salvation Army's requirement that employees embrace Jesus Christ.

So where does that leave the fraction of Americans who define themselves as godless? Although the percentage of Americans who claim no religion is about 14%, less than a quarter of them identify themselves as atheists, according to recent polls.
Yes, indeed. Where does all this leave this tiny minority?

The item spends some time with Stuart Bechman, co-president of Atheists United, a local affiliate of Atheist Alliance International who compares things now to the McCarthy era and is calling for unity. And that's hard!
Atheists aren't by nature of one mind. There's a godless organization for every wrinkle of nonbelief - the prayer-never-hurt-anyone, live-and-let-live atheists; the prove-the-God-fearing-world-wrong, keep-America-secular atheists; and the contrarian I-don't-believe-in-God-but-don't-call-me-an-atheist atheists.

Fear, however, is a great motivator, and politically active atheists know that they need an advocate in government to be heard. Unfortunately, as one activist noted, most politicians are as eager to align with the godless ranks as they are to lobby for pedophiles. Hence the need for an image makeover.
Ah, it comes down to PR of course - stress integrity, patriotism and respect for the faithful while staying true to a commitment to the separation of church and state.

We also learn that the first godless march on Washington drew thousands in fall 2002, and a few months later the Godless Americans Political Action Committee was formed. And this Veterans Day, so-called foxhole atheists (servicemen and women who are nonbelievers) will be honored in the capital.

And there is this:
Mynga Futrell and Paul Geisert of Sacramento hope to change that with a new name and an online community. They founded the Brights' Net ( in 2003 to create a place for people who share "a worldview free from supernatural and mystical elements." They chose the term "brights" because, unlike "godless," "atheist" and "nonbeliever," it did not define them in religious terms. By creating this label, Futrell and Geisert hope to "level the playing field" and recast members of their community as independent thinkers who celebrate knowledge without identifying themselves as vociferous anti-theists.

They want to build a large, influential community, similar to, to sway public opinion. So far, they say, there are Brights in more than 115 countries.

"There's this tremendous feeling of being a second-class citizen when you know you're patriotic and working for all kinds of good things for the country, and yet you're ranked with the pedophiles," Futrell says. "You have to have political influence in order to get cultural change of any kind."
Works for me.

But what is the Times up to, offending General Motors, telling people in Hollywood they don't need to be hip, and explaining that there are still, in our midst, atheists, whoa aren't evil and may not even be pedophiles?

Circulation is down, advertising is down, and the do these sorts of things? The new editor, Dean Baquet, had his work cut out for him.

Posted by Alan at 19:44 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 20 July 2005 20:01 PDT home

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