We trailblazed the boundaries between public and private property, and we located and measured public easements on the dry sand. We practiced stereotypic L.A. beach behaviors on the easements--frisbee, sunbathing, digging and building, yoga, wildlife watching, reading trashy magazines. We shared oranges and trail mix at our public easement potlucks. We went sign-watching, and we engaged in a no-kill hunt (take only photos, leave only car prints) for beach accessways. I think a few people are still looking for the West Sea Level Rd. entrance to Lechuza Beach.
Some of the diggers and builders used their buckets and shovels to build a very large peace sign. Some of the frisbee players drafted a local dog as a catcher.
While the safari-goers were learning how to enjoy Malibu's public beaches legally and safely, more than a few of the homeowners from next door wanted to talk to the Rangers, and their reactions ranged from wonderfully friendly (mostly on Carbon Beach, aka Billionaires Beach) to something beyond hostile (all on Broad Beach, aka the beach with the guards--who for the record are quite nice this summer).
A great many expressed their support for public access to public beaches. Others smiled and waved, and some Carbon Beach-ers applauded as each of our groups performed their freeze-frame tableaux of the beach behaviors.
A few lectured us on the dangers of public visitation. A very tiny minority screamed at us (really, screamed). Just one threatened to sue us.
After the first weekend, we received an e-mail:
What I don't understand, is you show the public where to get on to private/public beaches...but what about those people that worked day and night to pay for the houses on the beach in order not to get disturbed by the public? Since people have made such a big deal about these access ways, the Paparazzi now harass homeowners which are celebrities and sit on the beach. So are you really doing anything good? Or just disturbing the hard working people? There are plenty of public beaches, go to those. Maybe if everyone just worked hard enough they could afford a house on the beach. Is it just jealousy that you must be on "private beaches"? Can't you find a better cause.
For the record, the Urban Rangers have not yet surveyed the visitors to the public beaches--either those who live next door or those who come from far away--so we cannot comment on how comparatively hard-working those visitors are, nor on their motives for working as hard or as little as they do.
You can design your own Malibu public beach safari--whether you work four jobs or are just a lazy bum--by downloading the guide on the Los Angeles Urban Rangers website, or by downloading parts 1, 2, and 3 of the beach-by-beach guide on LA Observed, which is also reprinted on the Rangers site.
The ad men will do anything to get our attention. Anything. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
Once upon a time it was mild sublimininal cues like, say, a print ad in which the ice cubes in a tumbler of brown liquor formed the word sex" in shadows and light. Hey, I already knew that about liquor, but what the heck?
Some ads are not so subtle, like those dominating the airwaves lately in which the husband is always the oaf and the wife sprightly, smart -- and oh, so, smirkingly patient with Dumbo. This is as offensive to me as the sitcoms in which slobby overweight husbands have those svelte and sexy wives who, in real life, wouldn't look at them twice. (At least Roseanne got it right.) That head-scratcher aside, if I hear the jerk in the pizza commercial bray one more time about how he fooled the delivery boy and got away with three pizzas for five dollars, I'm going to throw one of my three pizzas at the screen. (The one my wife insisted on topping with pineapple and anchovy.) Or I could just toss them slice by slice at all the ads portraying men as hopeless bumpkins. (Apparently we're everywhere.) I may need a few more pizzas for that; good thing they're 3 for $5. I get the need to stop promoting cliche depictions of women as mindless housewives; it's been about time for fifty years. But why take it all out on us guys? Don't we already have plenty to worry about, whether it's peeing too often or not often enough. Or trying to get that "Viva Viagra" song out of our heads at the most inopportune times. I wonder if the band also does "Stairway to Hard-on"?
I also have a tough time with those drug ads in which motor-mouthed car stereo ad announcers (Hey! Tom Campbell here ...!) or people playing people playing doctors on tv, try to soft pedal the side effects the law requires they reveal. That is, except for the one that tells it like it is and admits one downside of the drug could be ... uh, death. Not "unfortunate terminal event" or "unexpected expiration." Not, "permanent loss of consciousness," or "what you've been wishing you could do to your spouse since you found out about the affair." Nope. Just death. Makes dry mouth, sleepiness, constipation, stomach ache, nosebleed, cough, viral infection, headache, hives, leg pain, sporadic bleeding, sudden drop in blood pressure, the Nasonex bee flying up your nose, and priapism seem like a day at the beach. Maybe in the name of truth in advertising this drug-maker's ad men should go all the way and include a shot of someone in an open coffin. Just a quick flash, mind you. Smiling.
But when it comes to letting it all hang out, Kellogg's latest All-Bran 10 day challenge commercial takes the cake -- and quickly gets rid of it in ways impossible to miss. Is it brilliant viral marketing or just proof that opinionated idiots like me still watch commercials even though we have two TiVos -- and can be suckered into writing about it and spreading the the word even though I wouldn't touch All Bran with a ten foot I-beam? Is this ad the best argument for going back to the good old unsophisticaled subliminal days of posing sexy girls next to hot cars to suggest that some backseat action is a possibility depending on the size of your engine? Hey, I learned about that when I had a '65 GTO in high school, but what the heck?
I could go on, but I've got to watch Alberto Gonzales resign. Talk about dumb guys.
As for the All-Bran Challenge: You decide. You've got ten days.
Funny, I thought shopping was the distraction, but I guess political discourse is these days. So I swallowed hard and moved obediently on in my consumer pursuits. But then the other night I was at The Grove and saw that Barney's Coop has dispensed with the niceties and just given us more direct marching orders:
So basically, any human discourse gets in the way of the retail agenda. Don't waste time signing petitions to help battered women, or environmentalism or even bother talking to the person you're with. It just slows down your money spending, which is the sole measure of your worth in corporate America.
Paper or plastic?
Until recently, the Los Angeles Times was a perfectly good name for a great metropolitan newspaper of record. Publishing history daily, the Times spoke in a strong, clear voice for its place and its era. Maybe it failed to provide adequate insight into our many diverse micro-cultures, but readers could be confident it would cover and comment upon important trends and events with intelligence, perspective and sometimes even wit.
These days, not so much. Sure, as the current batch of editors would point out, the Times still hits a lot of highs. Today, for instance, it wrapped up a four part report by Terry McDermott on memory and the brain that will no doubt dazzle the Pulitzer voters for whom it was intended. Almost everyone else, though, skimmed those stories at best before wading through dumbed-down celebrity coverage that typifies a Second City take on big city news.
Day in and day out, the great Spring Street institution that shaped our region has lost its way. Despite leadership’s recent embrace of this newfangled Internet thing, a wearying succession of imported publishers, editors and corporate flip artists has yet to figure out how to establish a firm identity for their enterprise in a rapidly changing industry.
It’s time for us all to pitch in and help. Of course, it’s harder to improve the actual product than the branding. so let’s start with the easy stuff: We’ll choose an apt new name for the Times, and the marketing geniuses in Chicago can begin to get their house in order for the new owner. I’ll get the ball rolling with the following eight suggestions. Please feel free to email a vote for your choice or your own ideas.
1. The Los Angeles Showcase. Implies the paper is a collection of trophies or jewels worth special presentation. Also implicitly acknowledges its role as a venue for top reporters and management who are dying to get noticed and move elsewhere.
Added benefit: Performers running to auditions might pick it up at the newsstand, assuming it’s a new trade paper.
2. The Los Angeles Asset. That’s how the paper is viewed by its current owner, the Tribune Company—as a holding to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. In juggling resources to create value, Tribune hasn’t always done well. (Alfonso Soriano or Robert Sheer? Carlos Zambrano or foreign bureaus?) Maybe owner-in-waiting Sam Zell will get it right with the Asset.
Added benefit: Hey, an asset’s a good thing, right?
3. Times 2.0. At last a way to hype the company’s eleventh-hour scramble to enter the digital age in full force.
Added benefit: Would also maintain a nominal link to the New York Times, which had much less trouble negotiating its move to digital years ago.
4. The Los Angeles Post. A tried and true newspaper moniker. Perfect if the paper goes to online only.
Added benefit: If not the Times, you can’t go wrong with The Post.
5. The Los Angeles Write-Off. That’s what the paper has been for Tribune and already looks to be for Zell.
Added benefit: People might mistake it for a daily writing contest, which in this time of reality TV may help circulation. Or better yet…
6. The Los Angeles Zell. If you’re going to shell out $8.2 billion for an over-valued property, you should at least be able to put your name on it.
Added benefit: Sorry, can’t think of any.
7. The Los Angeles Romenesko. Just stuck this here in a lame attempt to get noticed and picked up by the definitive website for media coverage.
Added benefit: If it works for me, maybe it will work for the Times.
8. The Los Angeles Aspirer: Meshing its own hopes and dreams with those of its southern California readership. Rhymes with Inquirer and Enquirer, two other once-great-in-their-own-way papers. Also with hirer and firer, not to mention direr, which is what the future looks like for Zell’s deal if the crackdown on junk loans spooks his lenders.
Added benefit: Sounds much more dignified than the Los Angeles Wannabe.
After living here for 27 years, Iris Schneider just bought her first car. She wasn't holding out. It's just that she had to give up the car provided to staff photographers when she volunteered for the recent buyout from the Los Angeles Times.
Now that she has a used Volvo and more time, Schneider is hitting the streets to explore and document "the quirkiness and diversity" of Los Angeles. She's from New York, where she freelanced for the New York Times, Rolling Stone and other magazines. She was hired at the L.A. Times in 1980, after some unplanned excitement. Headed home from her job interview, Schneider's flight was hijacked by a deranged woman who threatened to blow up the plane unless Charlton Heston read a statement left in a phone booth. Also on board were actors Sam Jaffe and Dino Martin Jr., superagent Sue Mengers, New York Magazine publisher Joe Armstrong and folk singer Theodore Bikel. Schneider's photos of the ordeal made Life, Stern and other publications.
Since leaving the Times, she has posted a Flickr set of her recent Los Angeles photos. The image above of Hollywood hopeful Rodney Peterson, shot outside The Improv, is a good example of what Schneider looks for around the city.
Coming to Los Angeles as a virtual stranger , I learned to love my Thomas Guide. Having a job on a newspaper forced me to get to know the city. I was lucky I had to drive around and see it all. I've covered everything from the Academy Awards to gang funerals. I love the diversity of this city and the diversity of a journalists' life….
I guess the main difference between New York and Los Angeles that was quickly apparent is that fewer people walk as a mode of transportation. So it's a little harder to stumble upon interesting things, though not impossible. If you pass something while you're driving by, it can take a while to get to it.
Schneider hopes her photographs will "broaden peoples vision of Los Angeles." She is working on a visual column about the city and trying to find it a home, in print or online. Her Flickr gallery is the beginning.
A couple of weeks after encountering Rodney Peterson on Melrose, Schneider was reminded that even in a city as big as Los Angeles, paths can cross unexpectedly. She ran into him again, this time walking the aisles of the Bristol Farms in Beverly Hills, carrying his sign.
This is the first post in what I intend as an occasional series about Los Angeles photographers whose subject is the city.
Like a human body unsure of whether the brain outranks the heart, or vice versa, the Society of Professional Journalists* wrestled itself into a knot during the past few weeks, apparently conflicted about whether to throw its considerable weight behind The Publication or The Journalist in a legal battle over copyrights and contracts. The resolution of SPJ's inner struggle came last week when the non-profit professional organization reversed its initial decision to side with the publication in this particular case. But rather than switch sides, SPJ pulled itself out of the match and retreated to the sidelines, which is where some say it should have been from the start.
The collateral damage was considerable. Besides the resignation of two freelancer advocates from SPJ (a membership manager and the Freelance Committee Chair departed in protest), SPJ's hokey pokey-like dance prompted intense and heated debates on several blogs, including that of SPJ's president, who went where few journalists dare to tread — she actually engaged readers in the comments section of her blog.
Throughout the multiple screens of sometimes toxic text, however, I was persuaded that this isn't about SPJ, or even a lawsuit that the American Society of Media Photographers says "could eventually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court"
What's really going on here is the logical progression of media budget battles from the newsrooms of publication companies to the dining rooms of freelance writers and photographers.
Buyouts and layoffs may not be the end, but rather the beginning of the real battle, the one over publication rights to a journalist's work.
As Publications have slashed their staff sizes in an effort to improve profits, some have continued to publish the work of their former employees by re-engaging them as freelancers. The practice has allowed publications to realize significant financial savings because, of course, the work of an independent contractor costs nothing in terms of benefits, workers comp insurance, liability insurance, vacation time, sick time, etc... The difference, however, is that those publications must now secure copyrights to the journalist's material, and therein lies the rub.
With an independent contractor the publisher does not enjoy automatic ownership of all notes, negatives, electronic files and research. No longer does the publisher get complete and total say in how or where this former staffer's material is edited, altered or published. Now, perhaps more than ever, the contract is key.
It doesn't take long to imagine the logistical nightmare large publications would face if they allowed each and every independent writer or photographer to negotiate their own contract terms. For that reason, the one-size-fits-all agreement has been used, and verbally abused, by independents for years. But now, with more and more highly trained journalists being cut out of newsrooms and thrown on the freelancer woodpile, there might just be enough friction to light a fire. Already, many former full-timers have realized what their independent colleagues have known for years, that out here the rules are different.
I'm there. Three years ago I jumped out of a happy and comfortable life as a full-time reporter to pursue the desire to write books. In that time I've completed two unpublished novels, started a third and, in between, I've written freelance articles and shot photographs for magazines and newspapers. I've no regrets, but one simple disappointment — I miss the unspoken bond of trust that I had with my editors.
Out here, bonds of trust are rare, and even if you find them, it's still advisable to get it in writing.
As a full-timer, my editors (even the grumpy ones) always had my back. That was essential. Because of it, I never once feared the threats of people whose misdeeds were reported beneath my byline. Whenever my head was requested on a platter, I trusted my editors not to hand it over, and my editors, in turn, trusted that I always took care to get the story right. That sacred bond was a critical component of journalism, the source of power in Ben Bradlee's famous declaration that the Washington Post would stand by Bob Woodward's and Carl Bernstein's reporting of a scandal that toppled a crooked presidency.
Independent journalists, however, must behave as though they're on their own, which is not to say the editors who contract freelance work are not honorable. In many cases these editors are the same people who supervised the independents when they were staffers. But out here, the relationship is different. Out here, only the printed words are reliable.
Although some may speak of the "spirit" of an agreement, regardless of what the words seem to say, the undeniable reality is that spirits evaporate when editors depart, whether through normal attrition, or as victims of continued buyouts and layoffs. Documents, however, remain to be interpreted by lawyers and judges.
As counterintuitive as it might be for a reporter or photographer to give a contract priority over the pursuit of a story, that's exactly what more and more independent journalists recommend. Otherwise, the journalist could end up with a choice between acquiescence to a bad contract and the loss of all the time (i.e. money) invested.
Even honorable parties disagree, so it goes without saying that negotiations of any kind can consume huge chunks of time. Most freelancers can't afford to seek an attorney's assistance for each and every contract, so its common for them to spend hours deciphering legalese, and then, if unsatisfied, to research alternatives. What might seem to be a simple word change can take hours, or days, to achieve as editors who are already busy at work putting out a publication are forced to act as go-between for the journalist and the publication's legal department.
That's where the erosion of trust becomes most severe, for what is a journalist to make of the editor who presents an unfavorable contract without so much as a wink, or single word of warning? Surely the editor knows the nature of the contents, particularly in situations where the legalese of an agreement could expose the journalist's entire family to financial ruin. Yet, the editor's loyalty must be to the employer, which expects its contracts to be presented with nothing more than an advisory to "sign and return when time permits."
Legal departments often get blamed, and maybe they are partly at fault, although the lawyers surely do only what is asked of them. Likewise, the business side of publications are only doing their job, struggling to maintain quality while cutting costs, which, unfortunately, requires that people who have always played on the same team (i.e. editors, reporters and photographers) assume opposing sides in a negotiation that can sometimes resemble an automobile purchase with the editor in the role of salesman and the contract in the form of the sticker price. Some reporters won't be savvy enough to treat the "sticker" as a starting point for negotiations, while journalists with more experience will often waste costly hours in an effort to negotiate a fair agreement. In both cases the result is an erosion of trust that runs counter to the mission of journalists.
It feels like an insult to remind journalists that word choice is critical, and yet, I'm frequently surprised by colleagues who display a cavalier attitude about the contracts they've signed.
"I never read them, I just sign," said one friend last week.
I suppose apathy is understandable, if not excusable. The length of a contract can be daunting. Some are longer than the stories they commission. But once the reader delves into the legalese, he or she might be shocked at what they find.
Some journalists are asked to sign away complete ownership of not just their words and pictures, but all their notes, research material, electronic photo files and negatives (even though these often remain in the journalist's possession). The same agreements can seek to assign liability and require the journalist to defend the material against any claim, presumably even the frivolous ones. Depending upon what state the publication calls home, the court of jurisdiction could be hours away by jet plane, travel that the journalist would be expected to finance should a court appearance be required. Some contracts seek to deny the journalist any right to limit how or where the material is used, which makes me wonder whether a third party could purchase the rights and use the material in an unjournalistic way for which the journalist might be contractually liable, not to mention publicly shamed. Some contracts stipulate that any courtroom dispute between journalist and publication will ultimately be financed by the defeated party, which means the loser pays all legal costs for both sides. Imagine a journalist with a credit card versus a law firm on retainer.
On the matter of copyrights, depending upon how they're spelled out, the journalist might not be permitted to resell the work, which significantly cuts into the potential income some stories realize as a result of multiple sales.
The list of examples goes on and on, up to and including confidentiality clauses, which could make it difficult for journalists to draw the attention of colleagues to unfair situations, in direct conflict with the ethical code of journalism.
Non-journalists surely snicker at this as our welcome to the reality of the world of business. Some will even say that fear of "what if" is so far fetched, so beyond what's reasonably imaginable, that expressions of concern about contract phrases are Chicken-Little idiocy.
Then again, who in the 1980s could have imagined the lawsuit that recently tied SPJ in a knot?
"In a nutshell, top officers decided to join major media companies in an amicus brief supporting National Geographic over a freelance photographer. The photographer was suing to get paid for reuse of his work in an anniversary CD ROM. The work dates back to the 1980s before freelancers even knew what "electronic uses" were.
At the very least, this was a decision [by SPJ] that was made recklessly and without full input of those most affected by its precedent—freelancers. At worst, it was an ethical breach and a break from SPJ's long history of not weighing in on labor/management issues because it has members from both constituencies. Somehow that position is okay for staffers, but not for independents. I was left scratching my head and clearly the top leaders didn't feel a need to answer my questions about the decision."
"There is nothing freelancers take more seriously than copyright litigation and how it affects us now and in the future. I cannot stress enough that this is a case about big publishers vs. freelancers and if SPJ remains on the side of the publisher, it will be viewed within the freelance community that SPJ is trying to stand with publishers and “score points” with them."
"Despite all of this rancor, one big problem remains: contracts concerning payment for freelance work should be much clearer. Far too many freelancers are not in a position to negotiate their own terms, and they are, frankly, continuing to sign bad contracts because they have no other choice if they want to pay the bills."
*DISCLOSURE: TJ Sullivan has been a member of the Society of Professional Journalists for more than eight years and is a recipient of SPJ's Sigma Delta Chi Award and Bronze Medallion for work published in 2001.
I love Mary McNamara's writing in the LA Times. She's smart and funny and whenever I see her byline, as in today's review of the TV show "Weeds," I go from skimming mode into a full read. (Though the LAT web site makes it nigh unto impossible to locate her without resorting to the search function.)
Here she is this morning, in fine form, describing Mary Louise Parker's shimmery charm:
"But the show lives and breathes with Parker, who, like Robert Frost's silken tent, remains only loosely attached to this earth. All startled eyes and defiantly vulnerable mouth, Nancy looks as if she lives on a diet of iced lattes, the occasional tortilla chip and the frozen yogurt swirl of her own half-formed thoughts."
But then she goes and dumps all over neighboring Malibu-ite (and Malibu Kitchen regular) David Duchovny's new show, "Californication." Maybe she's right, but another terrific writer (and blogger) has a different take. Here's Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle:
There's a lot to love in "Californication," from the blowtorch-keen dialogue of creator and writer Tom Kapinos to the way that Duchovny's ever-so-slightly-fading good looks perfectly encapsulate the character's downturn in Hollywood, to a multitude of standout performances in the ensemble cast. (A second episode sent by Showtime proved that the quality wasn't a fluke and that "Californication" is going to get a ton of buzz.)
Of course, there might also be some backlash. Duchovny has already joked that people are going to take the gratuitous sex and nudity afforded by Showtime and call the series "The Sex Files" or the "Triple X Files," but he hopes the end result of multiple viewings is that people will see the series as more of an adult dramedy in the style of "Shampoo."
Who's right? Who knows. It'll be all about the ratings, anyway. But as a fellow ocean dweller (who, full disclosure, went bowling in Long Beach years ago with a funny, skinny struggling actor everyone called 'Duke') I thought I'd speak up.
For those who are interested: I usually see the dolphins during the first 90 minutes of daylight, about 60 yards out, along the stretch of beach south of the Santa Monica Pier and north of the Venice breakwater opposite the Venice Promenade.
Photo links after the jump ...
MSSC took a playful gibe with a suggested caption that was more of a journalistic cutline: "Mayor Villaraigosa chats on the phone in Westwood Village." Others, however, approached it in the spirit of The New Yorker's cartoon caption competition. Many hit on similar themes, in which case I combined ideas and/or edited them for brevity. Here are 10 that brought a smile (in no particular order):
* Just tell Rocky to get someone over here before they tow it.
* I just looked at it, a nice apartment, and cooler than the one in the Valley.
* Since you're off the next few weeks, it makes sense that you fix dinner, right?
* Did I leave my jacket in the newsroom?
* Don't worry. I rode the bike this time.
* ... a white shirt and a necktie. Ok, your turn.
* Of course, when I say "all reporters" I don't mean "ALL reporters."
* I STILL can't find Stan's donuts.
* Yes, round them all up.
* I've got wine and Chinese food. I'll be right over.
But, the message is clear.
The cold shoulder.
Who knew it had become such a problem for them?
At least one young woman asked to have her picture taken while standing beside the mayor, who kindly displayed his pearly whites for the impromptu portrait.
No news to report, other than, well, how often does anyone see the mayor of Los Angeles in Westwood Village? I'm there every day, so I can tell you for certain that he's not.
Caption suggestions welcome. Click the "Email" tag at the top of this post.
If any submissions inspire a grin or better (and aren't patently lunatic, profane or potentially libelous) I'll post them in an update online a few days from now. All caption submissions will be credited to anonymous readers, unless, of course, I know you and can therefore verify your identity. This will help me avoid falling prey to such trickery as, say, those pranksters who might claim to be a famous someone's estranged spouse.