Blogging (in) LA: LAist

laistWell, you knew this was coming.

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.

I don’t know how many seconds it was after the Blogging (in) LA series was proposed that I was told by everyone that LAist was “all me” but I suspect I could count it on one hand. *Maybe* two.

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.

17 Replies to “Blogging (in) LA: LAist”

  1. I agree with these sentiments. I’ve been increasingly bored with LAist of late, especially on days when it feels like little more than an OC police blotter.

  2. I agree. I’ve become very blah with LAist. I stopped following some of their writers on Twitter for their constant complaining and total lack of professionalism. Maybe this is the kick in the pants they need to bring it back to what it was.

  3. I’ve only lived in LA for 2 years, so I can’t speak to the posts from 2006 and 2007 that you link to, and I do agree that the last few months have been lacking in the original reporting department, but I have to give LAist a little credit. When I first moved here, I found it a great resource for many LA things. They had original restaurant reviews on a regular basis. They went to concerts and area events and wrote about their experiences there. Did they cover national stories, too? Sure, but those are of interest to people in LA even if the content isn’t directly related. When I first moved here 2 years ago, there was tons of original content – with direct quotes from city council members and things like that. They were first to report almost every earthquake, which I paid attention to being new to the land of quakes.

    Maybe they were shitty back in 2007, which seems to be the last time you really read it since you make comments like “Again, that was years and years ago so maybe that’s not even an issue anymore.” And I honestly do agree that the original content has been greatly lacking in the last few months (not as many restaurant reviews, mostly linking to other reports, and being at least half a day behind on breaking news items), but to make blanket statements about a blog as a whole seems a little lame.

    The other thing LAist is lacking? Blog posts where they bash other local blogs. But that’s a good thing because it’s not very becoming, really… (Note: I get that you guys are doing some sort of reviews of local blogs, but if that’s the case you should be more in depth and accurate rather than quoting posts from 5 years ago, not bothering to check on the current version of the site or mentioning the ups and downs of the content over time and under various leadership. You note 3 “good guys” but never mention what made them good.)

  4. I’ve been reading LAist for a while now… LA Times is way too much to read and sift through. I’ve liked it because it is almost a “lite edition” newspaper with the effect that I read more local news. I didn’t know that they were scooping stories from other blogs and not giving them credit. If they gave them credit, I’d still read LAist, just like I read Laughing Squid. Is there another blog I can read that is similar to LAist but gives credit to the news source?

  5. The above comment is exactly what’s frustrating about this post. LAist DOES give credit to others. There are links galore in the posts. Lately it’s been too full of links because it means it’s not original, and I like it when it is, but they’re not stealing without giving credit. Maybe they’ve done that in the past, but they haven’t done that while I’ve been reading (the last 2 years). There are always links… But now blogging.la readers erroneously think LAist doesn’t give credit.

  6. Thanks! Good to know. I’ll keep reading LAist then. I like that they summarize stories so that I can then follow them with some context. It might have been better in the past, I don’t know… I’ve only been reading it for about a year.

  7. First, please excuse the lateness and brevity of this reply. I only came across this today. Perhaps that’s because you didn’t bother to talk to anyone at Gothamist or at LAist before you wrote this 1000-word piece? For someone complaining about a lack of basic reporting at our site, I think the least you could have done was a little reporting of your own- like attempting to get the other side of the story. But let’s put that aside!

    Let’s also put aside any long-standing bad feelings between us or the sites. If there ever were any, it was back in 2004. I was a young and foolish 27-year old kid back then, and I’m sure you can accept my apologies for any dickish things I did or said back then. And, as I recall, that beef was squashed at SXSW in 2005, and to my recollection, besides a few good-natured jibes every now and again, there’s never been any bad feelings between us since. And as you said, there are plenty of friends in common, a longstanding interest in many of the same issues, and a genuine desire to improve the cities in which we work- lots of ground for mutual understanding!

    We don’t disagree about so many things- I think Tony, Zach, Lindsay, and their colleagues at LAist are some of the best local bloggers in America. They’ve written 41522 posts so far, almost all of which deal with local news, food, or arts and events. Sure, some might go a little farther afield, but we’ve always felt it’s important to give writers the freedom to write about what they want to write about- another thing we have in common! All of our editors are passionate about LA, and they all live in LA, and the vast majority of what they write is about LA, so I think we can agree that LA is indeed “a site about LA” and they do indeed “give a shit about LA”.

    So let’s talk about your two other points: first, that we don’t do our own reporting. Well, first, as I’ve said, neither do you! Second, we actually do quite a bit of original reporting in LA- particularly in arts and food, and increasingly in news. Sure, it’s difficult with only three or four full time employees- but we call sources, verify information, add additional facts, etc- as often as we can. And I think as we hire more editors and reporters, we’ll do even better here.

    Second, you allege “LAist is just a vehicle to get pageviews” and that these “orders” come from the top. Not true! Sure, we do want pageviews (or rather, we want unique users, which is the metric we track most closely)- because without readers there are no advertisers, and without advertisers there is no money to pay writers. But pageview-churning isn’t good for growing a dedicated organic readership- and that’s what discerning advertisers want. The only thing that grows that readership is producing a large volume of high quality content- and that’s what we aim to do (and do better!) every month. And we’ve made changes that have actually lowered pageviews in order to improve reader experience- things like eliminating the pageview-refresh on galleries (now we do it with Javascript) and switching to the Pretty view on the front page (so you can find stories without constantly refreshing the blog view.)

    So even though this post you wrote without talking to us was kind of a dick move, I think we should move past it. LAist is going to continue growing- and we do intend to continue to “flex” to be a powerful voice of LA. Of course that takes time- the LA Times is 130 years old- LA Weekly is 33- so have some patience! Now, I don’t expect you to applaud us for all we’ve done these last 7 years- but at least try to be fair and dispassionate and see that the city is much better off with us, rather than without us.

    Sincerely,

    Jake
    Gothamist.com
    (long-time reader, first time commenter.)

  8. Thanks for the comment Jake, the fact that you wrote a comment almost as long as my whole post before any single writer for LAist actually makes my point better than I ever could, so I appreciate the back up.

    I would like to note that this is a review, like the other posts in our “Blogging (in) LA” series, and similar to how a movie reviewer isn’t obligated to talk to a studio or the actors in a film before giving his opinion on it, I don’t think reviewing a website without talking to the publisher or authors is dickish in anyway. But maybe you’re just more polite than I am. That said – given that I wrote every single word in the above post myself I think your claim that it’s not original is a bit of a stretch – but again if I’m off base there by all means please point to the source that I ripped off this review from and I’ll happily apologize and give the proper credit.

    I’m not really interested in *yet another* shit filled comment thread with you, we’ve certainly had enough for a lifetime already, but tell you what – I’m in NYC for the next week, if you want to buy me dinner and make your case in person I’ll seriously consider it.

  9. This reads like the bitter rantings of a man who had the opportunity, money, and free workers to unseat LA but could never attract an audience 1/10th the size. Why was that, Sean? Why did you fail so hard with Bode Media and Blogging.la, despite having every possible opportunity to succeed? Care to illuminate us? Or do you prefer to just sling shit at your betters and hope someone finally notices you?

  10. As a former LAist writer, I have my own opinions about its strengths and weaknesses. I am also a fan of this site. I also try not to be dickish. However, this comment is only to address this article.

    First, of all, an LA blog does not have to only be about LA, but what is of interest to Angelenos. Los Angeles newspapers and print magazines have TV listings, entertainment and editorial sections and comics pages. In fact, the LA Times once had a section called “Life”. As writers for LAist though, we were often asked, “What is this story’s connection to LA?”

    Roundups can seem like filler, but are actually time-consuming and useful. One of the LA Weekly’s greatest services to LA for many years before the internet was its list of local events. True, a list does need some commentary about why the recommendations are made.

    As for original reporting, think about the AP. Before the internet, every news outlet had a ticker-tape feed. People can’t happen to be at every news event, as Zach was at the Metrorail crash (which is to this day probably LAist’s greatest first-hand reporting).

    It’s especially hard when you are an unpaid writer who has an hour to write up a Manson family-member parole hearing before rushing off to your day job. I couldn’t exactly drive down to the courthouse.

    How fast does a story break before LAist is paraphrasing it? A story would break, and as I searched through the major news sites, they were all just re-wording AP. Over and over again. Sometimes word for word.

    The best you can do is summarize and make an aggregate of various news and opinions. We read all of the articles and forums to give the reader a feel for the events and popular opinion. At the very least that saves them the time of reading ten news sources and forums themselves. When possible, we would call people. Zach knew every fire department and police spokesperson by name.

    Yes, there was a time when there was less attribution, and that was changed. The “we-ist” style has also changed.

    I could continue on now with another post about where I think LAist could improve, but I have to wait for AP to break the story first.

  11. I’m old enough to remember when laist and blogging la were competitors. A long time ago one of them won. QED.

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