The LA Times And The Question Of Crisis Deliverance

by C von Hassett

The LA Times, once a towering, globally respected newspaper, has become a click-bait web of invasive ads and circus-style barking for subscription servicing that, though intolerable even when things in our city were on the norm, now come across as shark-like and ravenous, a dubious entity profiteering its wares much in the way of the two deplorables who stocked up on some 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizers with full intent of selling off all to the fearful for a handsome profit. They, if you recall, were swiftly booted from Amazon for price-gouging and were universally demonized in numerous news outlets around the world. Is not the sanitized LA Times, in this perfect viral storm, hawking their wares much the same? Are they not hording the gold of crisis-era information and, rather than sharing it without charge — as is their civic duty — they instead frontload every headline, every one-sentence introductory blurb, with either an onslaught of ads or swift delivery to a paid subscription page. No Corona updates without cash in hand for those of us living under its singular mantle, for no longer in this city is there a competing newspaper to call them in check.

Why isn’t the LA Times, this once-revered cultural institution, allowing each of us in Los Angeles, this nominal mecca of Angels, the ability to read all crucial updates on logistical responses to the Coronavirus for free? Why must we go all the way, geographically speaking, to New York and The NY Times for cashless updates on critical information about our own city, nearly 3000 miles to the west?

Thank you, Eric Garcetti, for letting us know the latest on what our local government is doing to stave-off full citywide contamination and transmission of Covid-19, which as of midnight last night mandated we stay at home unless to shop for food, fill up on gas, or seek medical treatment. I learned of this important development from The New York Times.

Thank you, Gavin Newsome, for making things lucidly clear on what we as a state are doing to help tamp down the viral spread. I again learned the full details of this from The New York Times, who upon quick scan seems to be offering up around 60% of their content, all dedicated to developments on the Coronavirus, for free. The Los Angeles Times, however, when I clicked on the first headline that spoke to these latest actions, told me instead that I’ve reached my article limit and must now subscribe, even though I’ve not once in the last few months clicked on a single article amongst their virtual pages (I must have reached my limit in reading their “About Us” page). To put it more directly, my “limited access” to the paper I once worked for is effectively zero, and Zero with a capital zed when it comes to learning important updates about Covid-19. This is Trumpian pathology at its most insidious and despicable. (I’ll admit, I was once a subscriber to our local rag but couldn’t stomach, even as a subscriber, the relentless buckshot of ads and self promotions that popped up one click after the next in every article I tried to read on their website, so this isn’t about not wanting to pay for what I believe are their absolutely valuable services. I now subscribe to The New York Times).

It is here that I want to praise The NY Times and all other media outlets for sharing without fee the information we all need and are so actively seeking in this troubling and, for so many, entirely unsettling moment. This is when a paper becomes a truly conscious and caring citizen of the community, much in the way we are all supposed to act in crisis mode, much in the way we are being asked to act by not only our local and national government but by most media outlets and newspapers around the globe, not excluding the Los Angeles Times. The LA Times, however, whose own mission statement speaks to being a “citizen of the city of Los Angeles, the state of California, the American nation and the world,” acts not as citizen in the civic sense but as one of corporate citizen in the full spirit of that other renowned American citizen, our own home-grown, court-sanctioned Citizens United. It is the kind of citizen who expects cash in hand at every turn, via every portal, at the click of every fully bolded, BREAKING NEWS! headline.

The question is, is this the one significant institution we want as our representative voice for local, communal, and national deliverance via ostensibly objective reportage? Is the LA Times really the kind of media platform we want speaking to us in times of trouble, counseling us on what to do next and who in this duplicitous landscape of so called “leading voices” we should trust? Then, knowing their current stance to this defining, if not wholly uncharted moment, how do we go back to reading the Times for their critical and otherwise wonderful insights on local art (sorry Carolina, this is not about you — you’re amazing!!), film (sorry Kenneth, I have read and respected your work for decades — you’re amazing!!), culture, local initiatives, developments in politics or the otherwise “normal” goings-on that develop daily here and around the world? It goes without saying that, yes, for a price, you should expect all of that, and to some extent the Times does passably deliver on a day-to-day basis.

But what about now, this morning, as we enter into truly new and unfamiliar terrains? Are we really okay with having to reach across the full length of this continent for information about what’s happening locally, or relying on Facebook friends or texts from family to tell us, even warn us, about the finer details and directives of our local governance?

To that end, I have a suggestion, and I assure you it will not hurt too much; in fact, it might even feel good to save $16 a month which can instead go to household supplies, a free-range chicken or two for the family, a good bottle of wine for the end times. I advise, as a form of protest, even if it’s for one week, that you cancel your subscription to the Los Angeles Times and give all of your attention to news outlets offering information on the Coronavirus for free. Not only will the Times of Los Angeles take instantaneous notice and begin offering up their own coverage of this momentous if not mind-boggling crisis without charge, but they will most certainly come groveling back to you through numerous emails and nightly phone calls begging you to re-subscribe, “for the sake,” they’ll tell you, “of supporting great journalism,” and they are likely to give you a door prize upon reentering their site to boot, which looks to me like a reduced cost of one dollar a week for the next 8 weeks. But until they do this, who in this moment of wild uncertainty can afford another day of this head-down cow grazing endlessly at our front doors?

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RIOT MATERIAL is LA’s premier literary-cultural magazine with an eye on art, word, and forward-aiming thought. Check out our gallery on IG: @ riotmaterial.

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