Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Since I've been getting a lot of emails on my opinion about that CNN report, HOMICIDE IN HOLLENBECK, there's obviously some interest. Yes I did see it and frankly, I didn't think it was very good.

The problems and weird reporting illustrated in that CNN story is actually one of the reasons I started this blog. As my knowledge and understanding of LA neighborhoods grew, the more I realized that the big media way way off the mark in terms of understanding and simple factual truth. All they want is some dramatic footage of tattooed homies flashing guns, a heart-broken mom standing on the flower-laden street corner where her child was killed, a talking-head cop with some sound bites about how bad things are and a politician promising to pass some a law that'll "stop the violence." It's bullshit.

I've seen first-hand how the electronic media works. The lack of depth is staggering. One of my readers asked how come that program concentrated on EL SERENO when there's so much else going on in Hollenbeck. She was asking if somebody at CNN or LAPD had a hate on for El Sereno. The simple answer is no.

To the people who produce this kind of programming, they wouldn't know the difference between El Sereno, Blythe Street, Rancho San Pedro or a jar of Vick's. It's all the same to them.

The way they work is fast, furious and cheap. A field producer parachutes in from New York or Atlanta or Chicago and hits the ground making phone calls on the way from the airport. They work off a formula: street-wise cop, crying mom, hard core homies with tats and cuetes, a politician and, if they get lucky, a fresh dead body they can roll on as the cops are laying out the yellow tape.

That's it. If a producer can hit the required numbers, they can put the meathead "reporter" on a grimy corner for a stand-up and they can cut the whole package back home and make it look like they've "been there" and told the tale. It's pathetic really because for most news viewers, all they're ever going to learn about neighborhoods is what an out of town field producer can put together in under three days. The footage is king. The "reporting" is just the audio background noise to give your ears something to do while your eyeballs are glued to the blood, tears and footage of a cop drawing down on suspects.

There are some rare exceptions. In LA, we've got Chris Blatchford who has done some deep digging and some really good reporting. His two part story on the Mongols was terrific. But that kind of reporting is rare.

The multi-part saga that the LA DAILY NEWS did last year on gangs was a dissapointment. With that much space and all the resources the paper threw at the issue, they basically did a TV style job. They did it by the numbers. This was a case of tissue-thin TV reporting influencing the print media. Instead of aspiring to something deeper, they did a paper and ink version of the TV approach.

It's not all bad news, however. Some great stuff can come out of the most unexpected places. The single best piece ever written about THE BRAND, for instance, came out of the NEW YORKER about a year ago. And I've seen some really good documentaries on cable, most notably the one on the Latin Kings that still airs on occasion.

For the most part, don't expect the media to ever give you an accurate reflection of what's going on in the barrio or la pinta. If you want to find a nugget of gold in that mountain of slag, read and view the big media with caution. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson, "They can't handle the truth."