Bloggers Vs. The MSM

I’m going to do an online Dust-Up with KTLA’s Eric Spillman next week for The Los Angeles Times. We will discuss the relative merits of blogging vs. the mainstream media (with particular emphasis on coverage of Antonio Villaraigosa‘s sex life).

What’s a Dust-Up? According to The Times:

Each week, the editorial page hosts an online dialogue between two prominent figures on a topic of public interest. The exchanges are updated daily each morning, Monday through Friday, and featured prominently on Below are all Dust-Up exchanges.

Check out Eric’s blog. Hit me up in comments or via email on the most important issues to raise with this man.

It’s easy to forget how anodyne local TV reporting is until you are stuck with their blogs. You then look at the writing without the pretty pictures and you wonder, "Where’s the beef?"

We don’t yet have our specific agenda for discussion, but I wanted to share my biases.

Spillman’s key point about bloggers is that they are not accountable while professional journalists in the mainstream media lose their jobs if they get a story wrong. Well, then:

* When was the last time a TV news reporter was fired for getting a story wrong?

* When was the last time a TV news reporter was fired for not breaking stories?

* When was the last time a TV news reporter was fired for not advancing stories?

* When was the last time local TV news broke an important story?

* If there was no local TV news in Los Angeles, how would our understanding of our city be diminished? What important stories and perspectives would be lacking without local TV news? I can’t think of any.

There’s one journalistic institution in Los Angeles that has more power and influence than all others combined. That’s The Los Angeles Times.

My bias is that TV news, particularly local TV news such as that coming from KTLA, makes almost no contribution to the pursuit of truth. As far as I know, TV news almost never breaks stories or even advances stories (aside from consumer investigations). The primary reason for this is institutional — you will never lose your job in TV news for not breaking stories or for not advancing stories. As long as your work and behavior is safe (according to the mores of the moment), and your looks are not scary, you are going to keep bringing in a great paycheck despite never making the slightest journalistic contribution.

(TV reporters rarely have a specific beat so they rarely build up unique expertise. When was the last time a local TV news reporter published an important book?)

Please read Eric Spillman’s blog carefully and tell me if there’s anything in there that breaks ground. Does he ever reveal new information on an important story? Does he provide important and new perspectives?

My thing is that I like to break ground. If I don’t have something to contribute, I don’t want to waste my time (unless the particular demands of a job require that I keep a blog going with cut-and-pastes, etc). I believe that all five of my books have broken ground. I believe that I have significantly advanced stories in every beat I have taken on, be it the pornography industry, movie producers, Jewish journalism, or rabbi-predators — while simultaneously breaking almost every journalistic rule in the book (sleeping with/borrowing money from/accepting meals/transportation/lodging from people I cover, being sloppy with facts and attribution, etc).

I don’t understand why journalists who play by the rules yet never break ground (such as the Frank del Olmos and Bob Bakers of the world) get journalistic acclaim.

My impression of TV reporters is that they primarily regurgitate the work of print reporters. It’s pictures that make TV news compelling and TV reporters have little to do with the acquisition of these pictures (which rarely have an importance beyond the emotional).

Khunrum writes: "The local news should be avoided unless one has a morbid interest in the daily murder count. That said, I believe Luke Ford has "what it takes" (the right stuff, as it were) to read the mainstream nightly news. But let’s not forget Luke’s last stint on the airwaves (Internet section) when he would jump up in the middle of a broadcast to relieve himself. So I say he’ll need Jimmy D as co-anchor so Jimmy can fill in when our boy hears nature’s call."

Fred writes:

I never watch local news. I watch world news, but almost never local news.

Most crime stories are not terribly interesting. They are rarely put in context (murder rates going up and down in this neighborhood; drug conviction rates going up and down in that neighborhood). In essence most crime stories are purely anecdotal.

Weather reports in So. Cal. are not terribly useful.

Stories on city politics and business would be interested if reporters rooted out corruption and scandal. That’s more likely in some cities than others.

Stories on how one influences local polititions might be interesting. I don’t see that very often.

In general, though, local news just doesn’t cut it for me.

Question: Do most local news reporters hope to make it to national news some day?

Question for a local reporter: If you were ugly, what chance do you think you would have to get on TV?

If you said something controversial, what chance would you have to keeping your job?

What sort of crowd did you hang out with in high school?

What did you dream of doing when you were growing up?

Anyway, Luke, our prayers are with you.

Joe emails:

Hello — love your site — please do not post my name or company on your site, I want to remain anonymous, however, feel free to use my comments as you wish.

I’ve always been curious about Eric Spillman — he takes great delight in shaking his fist at the camera anytime he reports from LAX, but apparently not much else stimulates him to such a degree.  His blog about Virgin America made me laugh….his sweeping statement that The British love its flashy image and bargain fares.

Hmmmm he interviewed every Brit did he?  I’m British and he didn’t ask me. 

His blog before poses this stumper:    But how do we really know if the material is valid? How do we know if the government is releasing it at a particular time for some kind of political gain? How can we check independently to see if the information is accurate? We can’t, and that’s what is very frustrating.

Um, Eric, it’s called a telephone.  Even if you cannot 100% verify the information, you can report on what you DO know….

Eric, like so many journalists these days, almost seem scared to report on ANYthing, lest they get something wrong.

Um, Eric, it’s called a retraction.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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