The Times goes surfing

The L.A. Times today debuted its weekly section on outdoor life. A section like Outdoors has been pondered for years as a natural for Southern California. I like the idea in concept, and hope it works out. I'll hold off forming an opinion until we see what it's really like.

Restaurants shouldn't be reviewed the first night or even the first week, and same for newspaper sections. They worked on this issue for months. I want to see what it looks like in October -- or in January when the quota of skiing/boarding/ice camping stories has been used up.

First impressions: I enjoyed George Plimpton writing about condors and Steve Hawk taking me to Maverick's, a place I will never go myself. I could have done without the dumb Cintra Wilson interlude (and I truly, truly hope they don't feature some minor celeb each week, like other sections do, just because this is L.A.) Still, everyone I heard speak of it today liked the section. If there's a red flag, it's the filler like the national park incidents (snake bite in Alaska, bison vs. car at Yellowstone, etc) and the giant photos and headlines. In a way, they are related.

The Times has a poor record of launching theme sections then starving them. Either there isn't enough budget devoted for writers, artists and editors or the ideas aren't there. So the graphics get real big to fill space and/or the content goes soft. (See Home or page 2 of California most days.) It will soon be clear whether Outdoors is being done on the cheap or has the kind of staff and freelance resources that John Montorio, the deputy managing editor for features, gave his top-notch sections at the New York Times. Watch the pictures for a clue.

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