Tuesday, October 23, 2007

L.A. Observed

I'm not going to post one of those dramatic fire photos from the raging wildfires in Southern California because we all know what fires look like.

While trying to follow the wildfire story yesterday and today -- a story about an area I have some knowledge of and affinity for -- something occurred to me.

You know what's really, really dead? No, not newspapers. The Los Angeles Times Web site is right up to date, though very slow -- an indication that the publishers are unprepared for the sudden surge in demand. And that front-page map of the fires today on the front page of the New York Times was the first I have seen that seems to recognize that this story has a ferociously strong element of geography to it.

You know what's dead? Television news is what. You can readily link to any of the Southern California television stations. All of the major ones, like this and this, are covering the fires full-time, and I simply cannot figure out what is going on from them (though this one in San Diego, at least has a Web site with useful text information if you don't have the six hours needed to sort out the story on the live TV feed).

Click on most of these TV newscasts and try to figure the story out in a reasonable time, while sitting through tediously repetitive commentary on the already well-known, accompanied by dramatic video of ... smoke and fire. Smoke and fire without context and, for the most part, without intelligible geography. The same clips over and over, without context.

I could take Los Angeles local television for about 15 minutes before going back online to text, thank you very much. Sorry, up-to-the-minute TV. You're over. You're a cheap visual tumble in the news hay.

I just don't have the time to sit here waiting for you to get around to telling me the story.

Business travelers looking at a trip to Los Angeles or San Diego this week already know where to go for the usual information on flights and the like.

But this is an intensely local story, and the most basically local sources are excellent. Try some like the "Here in Malibu" blog, which is posting reporting at its most local -- and useful. It's linked to at LA Observed, which has other useful local links and, as its motto partly states, "a sense of place." Today it's carrying one of the few great photographs from this story, via the Los Angeles Times, showing eight firefighters zipped in body-bag-like protective fire "huts" as flames race over them on an Orange County ridge. That photo commands attention.

But please, let's have fewer photos in general where text and graphics are needed: We know what fire looks like. We know what grieving homeowners look like. We know what a burned-down mansion looks like.

How about running something more useful and fascinating, given the raw geography of Southern California. How about more good locator, regional and topographical maps instead?

Yeah, I know, the newspaper design people don't like maps much, and love photos of flames and crying victims instead. The design people also don't particularly like words.

But the design people should be asked to wait whence they came, in the Lifestyles on Parade section, till the fire burns out and those of us who care manage to figure out, in context, what the hell happened, where, and why, in Southern California.


1 comment:

hughw said...

It was the same with Katrina. To get good information you had to go to local web sources. The Times Picayune reporters kept a running blog with outstanding, useful information.