Inviting Outsiders to “Take Their Best Shot”

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times ran the first installment of what it labeled “[a]n experimental column in which [the paper] invites outside critics to take their best shot at Southern California’s heaviest newspaper.”

What’s notable isn’t that a major news outlet is giving over space on a regular basis to its critics — after all, a number of papers now have their own in-house critic doing just that. Rather, what’s impressive is that the Times is offering outsiders an opportunity to specifically comment on the newspaper itself, something that no other outlet currently does (though New York Times public editor Dan Okrent occasionally turns his column over to letter writers critical of either the Times or of Okrent himself or of both). Simply by its gesture, the Los Angeles Times is showing both a degree of self-confidence and an openness to outside ideas that’s a breath of fresh air in the often-stuffy culture of major media outlets.

Which is why it’s too bad that the first installment, by Slate blogger Mickey Kaus, falls on its face. Kaus, a former colleague of Times editorial page editor Michael Kinsley, who used to run Slate, comes up with the novel argument that the Times’ own gravitas — in particular, its lack of a gossip column and of tabloid-style coverage — has contributed to a stagnant Southern California political culture.

That’s a bit of a stretch, and Kaus just isn’t long-armed enough to get that particular ball over the goal line. As much as we here at CJR Daily love our local Page Six in the rapscallion New York Post, we find it hard to believe that it contributes much, if any, value to public life, beyond brief comic relief and a momentary sating of prurient voyeurism (though we will admit that the gossip columns evidently do a better job vetting NYC-based political appointees than the White House does).

Nonetheless, the Los Angeles Times’ “experiment” shows promise. Bring on Chapter Two!

Bryan Keefer

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Bryan Keefer was CJR Daily’s deputy managing editor.