Tuesday, May 15, 2007

L.A. Times Web site does something very right

People love to complain about newspapers. They're too depressing, stories are too long, the Sports columnists don't know anything, they're too liberal, they ignore news in minority communities until it's bad, they're too easy on the President, they're protecting XXXX or out to get YYYYYY.

Well, none of it's true and it's all true, depending on one's point of view. But I want to address a specific complaint about a paper like the L.A. Times: it's too big to care about local news. I've often felt this way since I moved to Los Angeles in August of 2002, as I've seen Venice Boulevard west of the 405 get re-made with new shops and restaurants, many coming from Santa Monica, where they could no longer afford to operate; or when I served on a jury in a murder case but never saw any coverage; but never more so than when my next door neighbor was murdered in his apartment several years ago. Nothing on television, radio, the Net or in the paper.

In Albany this would have been front page news, after all the Capital Region (a four-county area) saw only about 20 homicides per year (MAX). In Los Angeles County we had more than 1,000 homicides last year, which is a typical number, so the murder of one man in his apartment didn't warrant any news coverage. And since L.A., unlike NYC, has a weak local newspaper scene, I think this one went entirely uncovered in the media.

But now the Los Angeles Times has done something about that. They've taken perhaps the worst newspaper Web site in the universe (for a site this large) and added something amazing. It's called the Homicide Report--it's a blog in which reporter Jill Leovy chroniciles every Los Angeles County homicide. It's often a small note with some basic facts about the victim, but it's something. It's letting the world know now and hopefully forever that a person, a human, a father, a son, a mother, a sister, a friend, lived a life and had it taken.

Check it out: it's sobering, heartfelt, modest and important -- all the best things a newspaper can be. Or in this case, a news blog.

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