LA Times Book Festival

We spent the day at the LA Times Festival of Books at UCLA. I’d never been to UCLA before – it’s a nice campus. Ample parking meant no hassles getting in or out despite the huge numbers of people there.

I attended a morning panel session entitled “New Media: Blogging and Beyond”. The panelists were RJ Smith, senior editor of Los Angeles magazine; Kevin Roderick, sometime journalist and editor of the LA Times, and editor of LA Observed; Hugh Hewitt, author/radio host/blogger/law prof; and Jill Leovy, LA Times journalist and writer of The Homicide Report.

It was an interesting discussion, mostly about journalism and how it is adapting from print to digital format, and how the LA Times in particular is trying to cope with shrinking print readership and the rise of bloggery, with the constraint that most people still don’t get their news online, and the ones that do are still likely to read print media as well. There were interesting points made about the digital divide (particularly by Jill who is seeing a markedly different readership online from the one she used to have in print, regarding her coverage of homicide in LA which touches many of the poorer black and latino areas of South Central). In an age when it seems like all kids have iPods and Myspace pages, it is worth noting that there are still poor families who can’t afford the current technological trends, cheap as they seem.

I also found food for thought in Kevin’s comment about the immediacy of the digital media vs print: blogs seem to be on the pulse of the moment, and blog stories are posted early, with the expectation that they will be revised and updated later. The important thing online is to report what you have now, raw as it is. Contrast this with the print media, which is more likely to take the time to fully research a story and make sure everything is considered and correct, before weighing in once. And yet, said Kevin, until relatively recently, print media was also about the immediate. It was common for city newspapers to print 4 or 5 times a day, updating stories as the day wore on. Even now, this still happens on a more-than-daily frequency in some cities. So perhaps journalism was always this way, and the corporate economic influence that forces consolidation is the anomaly.

Another interesting point made was that as modern-romantic as the idea of the “lone wolf” blogger is, there are some kinds of reporting which will always be more suited to the traditional. Investigative reporting in particular requires money, leverage, and legal cover which are difficult for the individual to bring to bear.

The discussion ended at 11.30 and I headed out to find Mrs. and mini-Elbeno, who were over at the Children’s stage enjoying a concert by Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players – one of whom was wearing remarkably giant shoes. They had also seen Henry Winkler reading a passage from one of his children’s books. We met up with a friend of mine from work, who was also there with his wife, and ate fair-food lunch in a shady cloister outside Royce Hall while mini-Elbeno slept.

We spent some time going around the stalls: a lot of good stuff, but also a lot of new age and religious weirdity – to be expected, I suppose. Mrs. Elbeno attended a panel about writing children’s books, and mini-Elbeno and I sat on the grass in the shade of some kind of evergreen and relaxed. Mini-Elbeno amused himself by eating grass when I wasn’t looking and by playing with my hat and sunglasses, which I let him do on the understanding that he wouldn’t break them. We ambled back to the auditorium when Mrs. Elbeno’s panel was over and picked up a plushy octopus from a merchandising stall. It’s not often you see a plushy octopus for sale, after all.

On the way out, we scored some free samples from Ghirardelli chocolate, and a couple of books from the “All books $5 or less” stand. The UCLA store had 20% off all titles, but to my disappointment it turned out to have a poor selection of serious computer books.

Despite a slow-looking 405, we got home within a half hour. Mrs. Elbeno wants to go back tomorrow to hit the stuff we missed today!

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