Los Angeles Times: One edition, lots of great photojournalism (and stories)

My wife and I recently decided to subscribe to the newspaper again. We’re ‘weekender’ subscribers to the Los Angeles Times. Like most papers, the size is a fraction of what it use to be, but the content is as diverse as the city it covers.

I, like most modern news consumers, have not had much time to actually sit down with the paper product, even through we only get it Thursday through Sunday.

But today, over the breakfast table, we get our fingers dirty with ink print (which I love) and dug in.

I could not ignore the great, diverse photos that filled the paper – the majority of the great shots from staff. So much so, I had to write this post.

In this one, random edition [Saturday, March 5, 2011], I found great photos throughout the sections of the paper. Check them out below… all of them but one are available online.

Back in Libya after decades in exile, a dissident takes on Kadafi
Since his return in late December, a longtime opposition group leader has become more vocal in his denunciation of Moammar Kadafi. But some experts say such groups have been gone too long to be of much help to the rebels in the streets.
Back in Libya after decades in exile, a dissident takes on Kadafi
Anwar Magariaf fought from abroad against Moammar Kadafi’s rule for more than 30 years. (Rick Loomis, Los Angeles Times / March 4, 2011)

Founder of Crescendo charter schools fired
John Allen is accused of promoting cheating on standardized tests; L.A. Unified closed all six schools in the group.
Just after the charter group’s governing board decided unanimously to fire him as executive director, John Allen, founder of Crescendo schools, leans against a wall. Shortly thereafter, he left the meeting. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times / March 4, 2011)
Just after the charter group’s governing board decided unanimously to fire him as executive director, John Allen, founder of Crescendo schools, leans against a wall. Shortly thereafter, he left the meeting. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times / March 4, 2011)

As L.A. tourism rebounds, tour buses bring noise and gridlock
Residents of Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Hills complain that an increase in tour buses — crowded with photo-snapping visitors — is clogging narrow residential streets.
Reflected in a bus mirror, visitors Sharon Butchart of Uxbridge, Canada, left, and Miriam Leiser of Ramsey, N.J., use headphones to listen to their tour guide. (Liz O. Baylen, Los Angeles Times / February 23, 2011)
Reflected in a bus mirror, visitors Sharon Butchart of Uxbridge, Canada, left, and Miriam Leiser of Ramsey, N.J., use headphones to listen to their tour guide. (Liz O. Baylen, Los Angeles Times / February 23, 2011)

Aaron Liberman hopes to lead Valley Torah to a first for Jewish schools
Aaron Liberman and his brother Nathaniel earn kudos for their work ethic as Valley Torah prepares for 6AA Southern Section basketball championship game against Bishop Diego on Saturday.
Brothers Aaron and Nathaniel Liberman after a recent Valley Torah practice in Burbank. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times / March 2, 2011)
Brothers Aaron and Nathaniel Liberman after a recent Valley Torah practice in Burbank. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times / March 2, 2011)

Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times
Only part of portrait photo, taken by Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times, of ornithologist Peter Harrison is seen in the archive and sadly not available online version: Scientists announce discovery of new species of seabird, the first in 89 years

To be fair, there were some great stories too, especially the ones paired with the photos. From the latest on Libya to California having the highest gas prices in the country to LAPD’s dilemma with Charlie Sheen, a good mix of stories that caught my (limited) attention. My favorite, though, was this piece my wife spotted inside business: Spiders in Mazda cars still a mystery (print headline)

I have to say, this experience reminds me of an incredibly powerful piece by Robert Niles in OJR a few months back: Letting go of the rope: Why I’m no longer a newspaper subscriber.

In it he used the strong imagery of letting go of the rope while someone, who asked for help but failed to do anything to improve their situation, was still holding on. The person on the rope was the newspaper/news industry.

Personally, I think Niles forgot something.

Yes, the news industry needs to do more to get itself out of the situation. But, the only person he saw on the rope, in my opinion, was the leadership.

What I think Niles missed are the hundreds of people trapped under that leadership … the ones that are passionate and believe in the value of their craft… the ones that — even after layoffs, furloughs and bad pay – come to work every day, working long hours to tell the stories of the community in text, photos, videos or whatever form the best they can.

Journalists that are as frustrated as Niles, but are trapped under that leadership. Journalists that choose not to let go of the rope. Journalists that are trying to do what they can with what they have … in most cases, “more with less.”

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of crap too (Check out Churnalism.com). There is a long way to go to make this better. I’m also as frustrated as Niles is with the leadership.

But I can’t lump the great, good or even mediocre work journalists do across the country every day and night with the bad leadership and poor business decisions that have undercut them and our industry.

I’m just a weekender, and for this one edition, I’m glad we re-subscribed.

Robert Hernandez is a Web Journalism professor at USC Annenberg and co-creator of #wjchat, a weekly chat for Web Journalists held on Twitter. You can contact him by e-mail ([email protected]) or through Twitter (@webjournalist). Yes, he’s a tech/journo geek.

Student journalist/entrepreneurs offer tips to improve newspapers' WAP functionality

Editor’s note: In the Annenberg-Marshall-Viterbi News Entrepreneur Fellowship Program students from three USC colleges collaborated to invent the future of news. Last month, three teams (each including students from USC Annenberg School of Journalism, USC Marshall School of Business, and USC Viterbi School of Engineering) devised and pitched economically viable mobile news ideas to executives from Los Angeles-area news organizations.

This week and next, the teams will present a summary of their recommendations here on OJR: Part I

USC Annenberg journalism student Dominique Fong was part of a team of AMVmobile fellowship students tasked with devising mobile strategies for the Los Angeles Times. Other students on this team: Vibhor Mathur (USC Viterbi School of Engineering), Jason Choi (Viterbi)


Our mobile strategy recommendations for the Los Angeles Times are grounded in the “3 Ps” best practices identified by the Project for Excellence in Journalism in a report on the trend of more participatory behaviors in the way that people consume news: participation, portability and personalization. The challenge of increasing revenue within existing corporate restraints led us to consider a fourth “P,” partnership, to more efficiently accomplish innovation across multiple digital platforms while increasing revenue potential.


Because millions of mobile users already turn to the Times to stay informed and fill idle moments, the organization should seek to maximize user engagement (and, consequently, brand affinity) among existing users while also attracting new ones. Implementing four new features would advance this agenda. Expanded integration of social media by adding a multipurpose widget (like Slate.com’s right column on its website) to a mobile app or WAP would allow users to engage with content over their networks without having to leave the Times site. Another idea is a thumb up/thumb down rating option, like the Daily Beast, which lets users immediately voice their opinion about what articles are most newsworthy with the incentive that more popular content is given higher standing on the home page. Third is a save option, giving readers an incentive to revisit content and advertising in the Times app. Fourth is empowering audiences to upload content directly to the newspaper, similar to CNN’s iReport but more immediate and intuitive (using the existing website photo-sharing mechanism and possibly through a partnership with Foursquare).


The intrinsic portability of mobile phones is a strong argument to exploit geolocation, a feature within an app to track and mark a user’s location. To prevent privacy infringement, organizations should offer users the option to decline permission for detecting their location. The Times can offer targeted newsfeeds, such as alerts for bomb scares, news according to neighborhood from the mapping project, and selective, exclusive restaurant reviews from the dining and calendar section databases. Geolocation can also improve advertising campaigns by triggering ad displays relevant to a user’s specific location.


Segmentation of audiences based on user behavior and preferences will add value to advertising packages by allowing customers to more precisely target specific user groups. Brief opt-in surveys regarding user demographics, consumption behaviors and content preferences would facilitate targeted advertising campaigns while allowing users to partially customize their content experience. In addition to global ads, the Times would also be able to facilitate more precise customer to audience interaction through localized banners or interactive ads (including “click to call,” “where to buy,” and “save for later” options) that change according to the user’s characteristics, habits and location. The advantages of interactive ads, of particular importance to tablets, are exemplified by an ad for cameras in a Sports Illustrated iPad app.

Another easily implementable segmentation option would be to enable mobile device detection on apps and the mobile site. When an app detects that it is displaying Times content on a feature phone, ads for “upgrade to iPhone” or for phone-specific games and ringtones could appear. Click-through rates have been successful for the Helsinki Sanomat, which uses Starcut, the same WAP site developer as the Times.


In order to move quickly, the Times should consider partnering with third party mobile ad networks that offer premium and geolocated ads, or look into licensing technology from those networks. Adlocal provides detailed metrics and real-time revenue counts as well as geolocation compatibility, as do competitors such as Acuity Mobile, AppLoop, AdInfuse and Yowza (an iPhone app that offers geo-aware coupons). Collaborative agreements with existing premium advertisers could guarantee revenue from creation of an iPad app, as Chase collaborated with The New York Times. Instead of following trends, strategic partnerships with key existing customers and leading technology firms could position the Times to advance both innovation and revenue growth, better serving audiences and customers.

Los Angeles Times WAP site with more interactive features:

LA Times redesign doesn’t quite click

The LA Times website used to remind me of an old-fashioned hardware store – things were plopped wherever there seemed to be space. That changed when Meredith Artley took over as editor of the site in early 2007. Under Artley, latimes.com quickly became a leader in design and in featuring content that celebrates the special qualities of its metro area. So why is the site’s new design, despite some welcome improvements, specked with so many user-unfriendly mistakes?

The gray (screened) type is gone, thank goodness, but it has been replaced by type that, because of the limited way it’s used, produces an even grayer look that extends to the entire layout:

LAT website front page

The new typeface is Georgia, a serif version of Verdana, which Microsoft commissioned early on for its online readability. Georgia, which was inspired by Times Roman, is fine, but not when, everywhere, it is uniformly presented in regular font.

Gutenberg would be proud,” the Times presumptuously brags about its new Web typeface choice. But even Gutenberg used boldface and other typographical devices of contrast in his Bible, the first example of printing with movable type.

To achieve its hyper-cleanness, the redesigned LAT site often eliminates information that would be an important cue to the browsing user. In this strip of three homepage promos (below), the browser is not told that authoritative Hollywood staff writer Claudia Eller was the author of the first promoted piece.

Feature promos

The second promo is for the popular Column One feature, but who’s to know?

High up on the page on Monday, Aug. 17, was this headline:

Alcoholics misread facial expressions, study shows

The linked piece would surely have gotten more hits if browsing users knew it was written by Melissa Healy, the Washington-based Health section writer who specializes in articles on human behavior.

The site’s feature on “our new look” says it “better showcases the world-class journalism our newsroom produces around the clock.”

I wonder if the un-showcased Eller and Healy would agree.

The site has redesigned ads, but it’s not a good idea to format editorial promos in the same size as ads and then juxtapose the two, like here:

Ad on top of Entertainment promo box

Navigation has definitely been improved through dynamic subsection tabbing that changes when the user’s cursor rolls over main headings like LOCAL, NATION, WORLD:

LAT news nav bar

The redesign has earned plaudits from commenting users (“magnificent change! much more readable, and elegant.” “Oooh! Nice, very nice,” “MUCH BETTER”) but there have been dissents too. Stephen wrote on Aug. 12:

“At first glance, i didn’t like it. maybe it will grow on me. maybe what’s ‘under the hood’ is impressive, but the previous design was much more elegant and sophisticated….”

“Our work is not done,” online managing editor Artley and LA Times editor Russ Stanton blog on the site.

Maybe that means they’ll revisit some of work they’ve already done.

A final suggestion: To help users wrap their heads around all the news the LA Times serves up, the site should hire what I would call a “Web maitre d’,” who would, each day, in a one-minute video, summarize what’s featured – from the biggest to the quirkiest stories. Talented would-be presenters – we’re talking LA here – would be lining up at the Times’ Spring Street entrance for auditions. The overview would be delivered with a soupçon of drollery (no Daily Show stuff) – just enough to encourage users to keep coming back for more.