May 19, 2011 at 11:10 am in Blogging (in) LA
LAist is one of the oldest group blogs in LA, and probably the one we at blogging.la have been most often compared to. (even though many of those comparisons were made by the staff of LAist) The site has at one time or another been steered (to some extent) by bloggers I have a lot of respect for. I’ve always liked Jason Toney, I’ve said plenty of times that I think Tony Pierce was at one time the best blogger in all of Los Angeles, and Zach Behrens undoubtably raised the bar there when he was handed the keys. Anyone who knows the history of blogs in LA knows those three names very, very well. And rightfully so.
That should really be no surprise given our history – personally, between blogging.la and LAist and between parent companies Metblogs and Gothamist. If you are new to all the drama lets just say it’s been a long and sordid history, whose sordidness is only exceeded by it’s drama. And since I no longer speak for Metblogs I feel OK voicing my own opinion without having anyone go ballistic claiming whatever random business, political, whatever bullshit seemed suited at the time. So I’ll get it out of the way quickly, I’m not a fan of LAist.
I’ve known I was tasked with writing this for months now though I’m only writing it right now, moments before I’ll hit publish because I’ve been thinking about exactly what to say here. I could spend paragraphs ranting about this issue or that but many of those really just boil down to personal crap. And who really cares about that anymore? Honestly, I don’t. So stripping away that stuff, what’s my complaint? I do have a few, though admittedly many of them rest on the conflict between what I wish LAist was, and what it actually is.
I wish LAist was a site about LA.
I wish LAist did their own reporting.
I wish LAist appeared, even a little bit, to give a shit about LA.
And wanting those things leaves lots of room for disappointment. LAist has always been much more about getting traffic than covering LA. And frequently it’s been the furthest thing from focused on LA. For example, consider their at one time regular New Music Tuesday series, with posts like New Music Tuesday – Andrew Bird, LCD Soundsystem, Modest Mouse, Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, Adult., Joss Stone, OMD, Tracey Thorn, I’m From Barcelona, Jack Wagner, Hit Parade. Yes, that’s the actual title of the post. What does that have to do with Los Angeles? Nothing. What does that have to do with search engine traffic gaming? Everything. And click through and look at the post itself – it’s a massive list without any editorial content at all. And so if you want LAist to be a site about LA, which I do, a post like that is infuriating. But if you accept that LAist is just a vehicle to get pageviews for advertising then there’s nothing really to complain about. But you have to accept that a site claiming to be about Los Angeles that publishes lists like that, or like this is really focused on things other than LA. And sure, they do actually cover LA issues, but I at least get the distinct impression that is a secondary focus. Being a site that gets traffic is goal number one, if they happen to cover LA somewhere in there then that is cool too.
But lets talk about “covering LA” thing a little more. I opined earlier in this post that I wish they did their own reporting. I really do. And honestly maybe they do some, but more often than not they just paraphrase something someone else wrote, sometimes crediting them, sometimes not. I used to have a collection of RSS feeds from local sites that would update every 30 minutes. One time a few years ago I thought it would be fun to count how many times a local blog in LA would write about something, break a story about something, and within an hour that story would show up on LAist, and how many times the other site would even get a mention. A few days into that the number was so much larger than I was expecting that the experiment went from fun to depressing and I gave up on it. Again, that was years and years ago so maybe that’s not even an issue anymore. Maybe it was coincidence in the first place. But when I see a recent story like this where LAist wrote a post without one single piece of original reporting, just paraphrasing posts from other sites, it’s hard for me to get my hopes too high.
And to be fair here, the stuff I’m complaining about isn’t exclusive to LAist. Lots of sites out there follow these same practices and they are proven to be profitable. I just don’t ever find myself interested in reading sites that utilize them. So again, this is my opinion. Yours may vary. Additionally, much of this is handed down from the parent company. I consider a good number of ex-Gothamist staff to be friends and have a bit of insight as to what goes on behind closed doors so I know that the people running the local site(s) don’t have a lot of say on much of this. They get orders and they have to follow them if they want to keep writing for the site. But that’s how jobs work, and jobs don’t always equal passion. I think I just prefer to read blogs written by people with passion.
There’s also the painfully annoying “editorial we” thing, which actually now that I type it I don’t even know if they still do. I could click over there and look around but I really can’t be bothered. So take everything I’m saying with that in mind I guess. I do have to give them credit for running a post with a nipple (NSFW) on the front page that one time, though any good will from that was certainly lost interviewing dicks like this.
In the end, LAist is just disappointing. They have the audience and name recognition to do some really cool things. They could flex that and be a very powerful voice of LA. But they don’t. 9 times out of 10 they chase the headlines. It’s a bummer. LA is an amazing city, and deserves awesome sites singing it’s praises, and unfortunately I think a lot of people end up on LAist thinking it’s an accurate representation of LA. It’s not. At least not the LA I know and love. LA deserves something better.