Claiming credit for a journalism cliche

The only thing lamer than the new feature where reporter William Lobdell writes about pretending to do stuff that other people do for real is that former Breeze columnist Corey Levitan thinks they ripped off his idea. I passed yesterday and again this morning on picking up Levitan's claim, which apparently has provided some amusement to his former colleagues at the Breeze. But Fishbowl LA bit on it this afternoon, so I'll give you my take.

The "idea" of a reporter doing another guy's job for a day (or night, whatever) was a quick-hit newspaper cliche long before Levitan did it for the Breeze (and did it well enough, as I recall.) It's almost always much more interesting to hear from the people who actually do the activity — they know vastly more than a reporter can pick up in a few hours, they can communicate nuance and emotion more authentically, and as we know from blogs they often can write just as well. Anyway, the idea that LAT editors christened this feature because Levitan suggested it in 2005 is laughable, if for no other reason than most of them are gone. IIWEOTLAT*, I'd spike it. Smacks of filler, something to do for Lodbell, the ex-city editor in Orange County who is returning to reporting. I suppose such a trite idea could be done in a way that provides readers with compelling insight into an exotic job or pursuit, but the odds are against it. To be fair, the jury is out on Lobdell's stab, since I think he's only done one (posing as a lifeguard at Huntington Beach.) But frankly, I'm unlikely to read it to know.

Anyway, Levitan's note to me — and Lobdell's email response calling Levitan's claim pathetic — are after the jump.

(* IIWEOTLAT = If I were editor of the LAT)

This is the shorter of the two emails Levitan sent arounds this week:

This week, began running my column, "Fear and Loafing," in which I try on different jobs and lifestyles for the day. They didn't syndicate it, however. It's being submitted by Bill Lobdell as "Living Vicariously in L.A."

Ever since George Plimpton, reporters have sampled different jobs and written about their experiences. However, Lobdell's first few jobs, his videos, his mission statement all smack of my six years of nearly killing myself for good copy. (Check out, and judge for yourself.)

I wrote my column as "Adventures With Corey" at the Daily Breeze from 2001-2005. It was an idea I cooked up with features editor Leo Smith. Rather than an all-American George Plimpton type, I'm George Costanza. Lobdell's twist is that he's old. But it amounts to the same I-don't-belong-here tone.

What really kills me is that, before the Las Vegas Review-Journal offered to hire me in 2005, I wrote to all relevant Times editors trying to find a new home for the column. Apparently, despite the polite rejection letters some of them sent back, they liked the idea after all.

I'm not seeking any kind of compensation, which reporters-for-hire are not entitled to. I just want light shone on this blatant rip-off. Because the Times' readership and influence so dwarfs the Breeze's, and the R-J's, any new readers who happen upon me on the Internet will assume that I'm the copycat.

Response from Lobdell:

this is so stupid I don't know where to begin. participatory journalism has long been a part of the fourth estate's history -- someone in Las Vegas or the South Bay Breeze didn't invent the genre. growing up, george plimpton's "paper lion" was my favorite book and movie. in my 25 years in journalism, including many as an editor, i've been at papers that have done countless first-person stories or published first-person columns in this same arena. and television has been doing this for its entire history. currently, i'm a huge fan of mike rowe's "dirty jobs," charile leduff's "only in america" and even segments of "jackass," where the boys film their experiences doing crazy/weird/strange things (btw, one of the best all-time segments was johnny knoxville returning punts during a USC football practice). i'd imagine that there are dozens of similar columns running in papers and magazines and on television shows, radio shows, podcasts and the web right now. there's no conspiracy here (though i'm not exactly sure what the conspiracy would be). i pitched the idea to my editors, and, at the time, i had never heard of corey levitan. corey saying he has been ripped off is like baskin robbins saying it invented ice cream. it's a little pathetic.

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