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Future of Journalism: Part 364 – Deadline LA

December 29th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


The podcast for the special Christmas Day, 1-hour broadcast
of KPFK’s Deadline LA has been posted.

As I mentioned before, the subject up for discussion was the future of journalism: What lies ahead? And what is important to preserve from the models of so-called legacy media?

And a lively discussion it was.

In addition to hosts Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume those on air were:

1. Michael Schudson, a Columbia School of Journalism professor who, together with the former managing editor of the Washington Post, Leonard Downie, Jr., has recently published a report about a particular aspect of the future of journalism, which has caused a big stir (and a certain amount of shouting) among those who are obsessive thinking, talking, posting and tweeting about such things.

2. Victor Valle, a Cal Poly professor of journalism and ethnic studies, who is also a former Pulitzer winning reporter. Valle had some provocative opinions about the flaws and blind spots inherent in even some of the best of conventional journalism, as it has been practiced in the last several decades.

3. To round out the threesome there was….um…me.

I finally listened to the show myself yesterday. And I suspect (and hope), you’ll find that our looping interweave of speculation and opinions will stimulate some of your own.

(If you come up with any ideas you’re willing to share with the rest of us—please do!)

Posted in Future of Journalism, writers and writing | 90 Comments »

Andre Birotte Jr….Homeboys In ALA….and WLA Hiatus

December 28th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



WitnessLA and I will be on hiatus until next Monday, Jan. 4, in order that I may spend some much-needed time focusing on a personal writing project.

From time to time during the week, I will likely put up mini posts. And I’ll tweet whenvever the spirit moves. And if something truly unignorable happens, I’ll reappear. But mostly I’ll be hiding out.

(Feel free to keep up the conversation in the interim, though. )


It was announced late last week that Andre Birotte Jr.,
who for the last six years has served as the Los Angeles Police Department’s inspector general, has been tapped by President Obama to become the top-of-the-heap federal prosecutor in Los Angeles—AKA the new U.S. Attorney. This fact has had me cheering loudly all weekend.

(Okay, part of the cheering might have been a result of those Stoli and ginger beer drinks my niece-in-law was mixing on Christmas eve. But most of it was because of the news that Andre Birotte was, indeed, as many of us had hoped, the official U.S attorney nominee.)


Congressman Bobby Scott’s Youth Promise Act, is one of those rare species of legislation: A well written bill. More than that, it’s a well written bill having to do with gang violence reduction, which makes it about as usual as a verified Yeti sighting.

And it’s picking up steam. Over half the members of the U.S. House – 234 Congress members- have signed on as co-sponsors of Scott’s bill.

But, as the Virginia-Pilot reports, there are still naysayers who favor more of the kind of get-tough policies that have not proven to be effective in the past. (Read the article. The V-Pilot does a nice job.)


For the third year in a row, Homeboy Industries has sent some of its former homeboy staff to Pritchard, Alabama, to work with young gang members and wannabees in this poorest of communities.

The LA Times’ Katy Newton has produced a stunningly good multimedia package on the trip and some of the personalities.

It is really, really worth your time to watch.

Then, after you finish with the video, click on the essay written by Trayvon Earl Jeffers, a tall, gangly former homeboy with a smile as big as the world who was among the Homeboy group who originally went to Alabama.

Then click on the Homicide Report’s account of Trayvon’s murder.



Okay, one more important read I had to add. Joel Rubin and Scott Gold have the story.

Posted in Gangs, Homeboy Industries, law enforcement, US Government | 23 Comments »

Merry Christmas, 2009

December 25th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



Posted in Life in general | 18 Comments »

On Deadline LA Today – UPDATED

December 25th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

I’m on KPFK’s Deadline LA today. The broadcast airs at noon.

UPDATE: Okay in my Christmas haze, I completely screwed up. It was on at 3:30 p.m. But, I will post the podcast when it’s up, which will be during the week next week, once everyone’s had time to rest up from the holidays

(And, no, we were not recording on Christmas. It was taped earlier.)

Other guests are two very, very bright men, Michael Schudson of the Columbia school of journalism and Victor Valle of Cal Poly. We will be talking about…what else?–The Future of Journalism.

Posted in Future of Journalism | 1 Comment »

Christmas Wishes, Silly and Serious

December 24th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

I’m madly cooking and wrapping.
(And what are y’all doing? Absurdly cheery bloggers need to know.)

But here are three offerings:

1. Norad tracks Santa. (Just click. You may have already seen it, but if not… )

2. Elf yourself. A fabulous way to waste time and embarrass relatives over the holiday. It to has been around for a while. But if you’ve not seen it—or done it—well, just go look.

3. And more seriously, on Wednesday, the LA Times did a much needed and much appreciated editorial about why it is important to help Homeboy Industries.

As well all know, I’m anything but agnostic on this issue. So I’ll just say, give to someone, or some worthy cause. So many, many people are in such terrible need this year. Some of the smaller towns in California’s inland have 40 percent unemployment. Forty-freaking percent.

Here are the first couple of ‘graphs of the LAT editorial:

Kids and young adults in trouble often come to the attention of Los Angeles County or city agencies, which try to set them straight if they can, punish them if they must, and help them if they are able. The help often comes in the form of a referral to a place that will offer peer counseling, find jobs, remove tattoos or help in the search for a purpose in life. And that place, far more often than not, is Homeboy Industries, founded and overseen by Father Greg Boyle. Homeboy and Boyle have become internationally famous for their efforts to turn around former gang members, and in a city in which fame and fortune usually go together, it’s easy to forget that Homeboy is run on a shoestring.

That shoestring came close to breaking this year, in part because of the economy, but also in part because of Homeboy’s success. Government agencies send people in need of help, but rarely do they send funding. And those services that have done so much for so many people trying to leave or avoid gang life aren’t cheap….

A sincere thank you to the LA Times Ed board for running this essay.

We’re all in this together.

Posted in Life in general | 3 Comments »

It’s Not a Christmas Song, Per Se, But….

December 23rd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

….it is sacred music by any sensible measure. Enjoy.

And, then, of course…this indelible, impossibly beautiful, utterly heartbreaking version.

Posted in American artists | 1 Comment »

Body Armor and Violent Felony Convictions?

December 23rd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Okay, here’s the question: Should those previously convicted of certain violent felonies
be able to possess and wear bullet-repelling body armor? Since 1998, both state and federal law said no.

Then, last Thursday, California’s Second Circuit Court of Appeals, decided that the state law was not clear enough, and overturned it.

The decision has made law enforcement groups up and down the state understandably unhappy. The ruling will get people hurt, said LA Police Protective League president, Paul Weber.

Weber has precedent to back up his opinion. The law was originally passed in response to the infamous, 1997, North Hollywood shootout between officers and heavily armed and armored bank robbers, plus an earlier fatal shootout in San Francisco.

Yesterday, San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon upped the ante when he sent letters to Attorney General Jerry Brown and SF Board of Supervisors President David Chiu asking for help in overturning the decision.

Here is how the SF Chronicle explains
some of the details of the controversy.

The law, passed in 1998, was intended to protect police against flak-jacketed criminals such as Lee Boutwell, who fatally shot San Francisco Officer James Guelff in November 1994 and wounded another officer before being killed in a shootout. Congress passed a similar federal law in 2002.

The state law makes it a crime, punishable by up to three years in prison, for felons with violent offenses on their record to possess or wear body armor. State regulations define body armor as apparel that provides “ballistic resistance to the penetration of the test ammunition” for certain types of guns, a standard also used to certify armor for police.


In Thursday’s ruling, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles said even someone who owned a device that had been sold as a bulletproof vest wouldn’t know, without testing or expert advice, whether it fit the law’s definition of body armor.

“We do not see how, without providing something like an official list of prohibited vests, the statute can be said to provide either fair notice to a defendant or meaningful guidelines to the officer on the street,” Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein said in the 2-1 ruling.

The decision could go next to the California supreme court. In his letters, George Gascon is pressing for such an appeal.

Of course, any further appeals could be rendered unnecessary if the state legislature simply got itself together long enough to amend the law by making the definition of prohibited items a little clearer.

Let us hope they do so.

I’m with the cops on this one.

And speaking of cops, in Tuesday’s LA Times, Tim Rutten has a nice column on the twinned topics of Charlie Beck and Special Order 40.

Posted in LAPD, LASD, law enforcement | 16 Comments »

A Little Bit of Bob to Cheer Your Day

December 22nd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

And if you’re not cheered by a single playing. Then, heck. Play it again!

(Go, Bob.)

FYI: Mr. Zimmerman is donating all proceeds from this album, Christmas in the Heart, to charities for the homeless and hungry in the United States, Britain and 80 countries in need.

Now, then, once you’ve seen Bob bouncing about in the hat and the silly wig, you should play this one, which is quite lovely:

And this one is, if anything, better.

Go, Bob. (Again.)

Posted in Life in general | 22 Comments »

Journalism: Access, Ethics & All That Jazz

December 22nd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


I will be putting up light posting all the rest of this week, through Christmas. This means that the new stories I promised will be appearing after the holidays. (They’ll keep. One is about a young man in prison who may be innocent, and there will be more about Alex Sanchez case, and there are more.)

In the meantime:

1. The LA Press Club says that the proposed Federal Shield Law that passed out of committee not too long ago, is flawed but worth passing.

2. Has Matt Taibbi failed journalism, or has journalism failed Matt Taibbi?

At True/Slant John McQuaid notes that Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi is being slammed by biz reporters who say that many of his facts on his stories about the finanicial meldown this year are not adequately…um….checked. McQuaid points out that while Taibbi may get get a few things wrong, he gets the big picture right.

Whereas, suggests McQuaid, the entire financial journalism corps managed to miss the looming financial crisis.

The real problem here isn’t one journalist, but journalism itself. The U.S. media’s neutral, non-ideological form of reporting reached its apogee in terms of political influence and number of practitioners post-Watergate and pre-9/11. But during that time, its reach and credibility among the public were also steadily declining due to — you name it: fragmentation, failing business models, culture wars, growing structural and demographic political divisions. Government (and governing itself) came under sustained assault, and its regulatory and political checks on business — never all that strong — have been weakened.

Taibbi peels back the layers on this and shows it to be outrageous.
Whether you are a liberal or a free-marketeer, it is clear something big has gone wrong in the business-government nexus. If you’re going to part ways with Taibbi over his factual blunders or framing, that’s legit. But it still leaves the big question hanging out there — is his outrage misplaced?

Read the rest.

And here is Chris Lehman at the Awl on the same issue.

3. “After a Year of Ruin, Some Hope”

NY Times media writer David Carr has written an end-of-the-decade,
glass-half-full essay about the state of journalism. Here’s a ‘graph.

Blogs and new-media sites are cartoonishly written off as places where people write up the soup they just ate, but in the past year, many sites have added muscle and resources to the pursuit of news. Everyone knows about the reporting assets and influence of Politico (, but you know things have changed when Gawker (, the attitudinous Manhattan media blog, is hiring the kind of reporters who pick up the phone.

Yes, well. Good point. It would likely feel like a better point if Carr hadn’t been one of those doing the “cartoonish” writing off.

No matter. Read it anyway.

4. “Journalism” and the “media” are not synonymous

Or so writes NYU J-school prof, and media Jedi master, Jay Rosen. Here are the opening ‘graphs.

Journalism, the practice, is not “the media,” although for many years most of the journalism that got done was done inside the media industry. Now that industry is in trouble, but not because people no longer want to be informed or entertained (they still do). Rather, the social pattern that sustained the media industry has been disrupted by technology.

The media used to work in a one-to-many pattern--that is, by broadcasting. The Internet, though it can be used for one-to-many transmission, is just as well suited for few-to-few, one-to-one, and many-to-many patterns. Traditionally, the media connected audiences “up” to centers of power, people of influence, and national spectacles. The Internet does all that, but it is equally good at connecting us laterally–to peers, to colleagues, and to strangers who share our interests. When experts and power players had something to communicate to the attentive publics they wished to address, they once had to go through the media. Now they can go direct.

Read on.

Posted in Future of Journalism, media | 16 Comments »

Why Does the LA Times Hate Books?

December 21st, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Saturday night, one of California’s best known small literary presses, Red Hen Press,
had it’s annual Christmas party at the home of editor/poet Kate Gale and publisher Mark Cull (who also happen to be married to each other, which is handy).

It is a party that I always try to attend. For one thing, it features a lively array of literary types who, even after several glasses of Cabernet, are still able to gossip in nicely-formed sentences. Even the poets. (Okay, especially the poets.)

Plus Kate’s lasagna is terrific and Mark’s chili can be counted on to be spicy enough to be sinus clearing.


(Those forming nice sentences—with or without the Cab—included poet Eloise Klein Healy, queen of LA book PR and poet, Kim Dower (Kim from LA), novelist/memoirist, Aimee Liu, poet and Y.A. author, Ron Koertge, composer Morten Lauridsen and more.)

This year, a discernible current of unhappy bewilderment shot through many of the night’s more upbeat conversations whenever someone brought up the topic of the LA Times and, well, books. You see on Friday, we had all learned via Kevin Roderick at LA Observed that the Times had cut its already slashed and burned Book Review section staff exactly in half.


Last week there were four people working at LA Times Books. Today there are two. Editor David Ulin, and Deputy editor Nick Owchar. But Orli Low and Susan Salter Reynolds are gone.

(Okay, yes, thankfully, there is also Carolyn Kellogg, who writes the excellent book blog, Jacket Copy. ) *

That assistant book editor Orli Low has been laid off is unsettling enough. (I’ve worked with Orli and, like everyone who has, I know what a good editor she is.)

But to have staff writer Susan Salter Reynolds leave as well…. it is unutterably stupid. In addition to the other reviews and articles she writes, Susan puts out the weekly Discoveries section, which means she reviews at least three books a week, often more. And not only does she churn these puppies out, she does so with grace, insight and lovely prose of her own.

(Just speaking personally,
there is no one writing for the LAT, on staff or off, whose reviews have more frequently gotten me to go out and buy the $%$@%$& book in question.)


And this is the person the LA Times editors, in their seemingly infinite unwisdom, have decided to shove out the door? How do they imagine they are going to get all those books reviewed once she’s gone?


I get it.

They aren’t.

Right. Of course not.

Nevermind that, as Ulin pointed out in Sunday’s wonderful column Connected to Writing, in which he looks at what the past decade portends for the future of reading and writing, that—surprise—the interest in literature is actually on the rise, not waning.

(According to the NEA, more than 112 million people are literary readers—that is, readers of “novels and short stories, plays, or poems”— a number that only increases when you include nonfiction, graphic novels, genre literature and e-books.)

The numbers make clear it is the delivery systems that are changing. Not the desire to immerse oneself in great stories, fiction or nonfiction—on paper or digital tablet (or read aloud on one’s iPod).

Did I mention that LA is one of the nation’s book buying-est cities? It usually comes right after New York, on the lists. (And before San Francisco, which imagines itself to be the more literary of the two cities. Dream on, SF!)

No matter. The LA Times management, awash in a dark and relentless cynicism about their customers, appears to be ever more convinced that we in LA care only about movies and TV. (While Book review is down to two people, arts and entertainment has more than 50 on the staff—and may hire still more.)

NOTE TO LA TIMES MANAGEMENT: Do you really think that doing away with half of the people on your payroll who write or edit anything pertaining to books and/or reading is the smartest cost-cutting/revenue producing strategy if you want to retain or attract more readers? Really?


1. On the subject of writers, China’s most prominent dissident, literature professor, Liu Xiaobo will go on trial on Wednesday on subversion charges for his writings critical of the Chinese government. He has been detained for a year without charge. (The London Times has the rest of the story.)

The PEN American Center has a one-click email you can send to ask for Liu’s release.

2. As you likely know the Senate has nailed down its 60 votes. Heaven only knows what was handed over for payment.

3. Be sure to read the article in Sunday’s LA Times about the low bar often set teacher tenure at LAUSD, with no effort to see if the the instructor is actually proficient at teaching.

4. The LA Times has been digging into the issue of why there seemed not to be adequate air support during the first few days of the Station fire.

From the back door mutterings I’ve heard, what is reported today (Monday) is just the beginning.

(And, no, you’re not hallucinating, I did add new photos. )

(*I also fixed the line about Jacket Copy, which was clumsily worded earlier.)

Posted in literature, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | 58 Comments »

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