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Friday, December 7, 2007

LA Times launches Readers' Representative blog

The LA Times has launched a Readers' Representative blog which responds to readers' questions about how it covers stories and why - both on a general level and on specific stories.

Essentially, letters and emails which would previously have been responded to individually and privately by reporters and other staff are now publicly answered on the blog where other readers can see the issues and comment on them.

It's not a huge leap forward in redefining the reader-publisher relationship - the paper still defines the conversation because it chooses what gets posted in the blog - but it's a start.

Issues posted so far include how the paper chooses its cartoons, why it publishes the addresses of homes where historic crimes occurred "to the detriment of the current residents of those homes" and why the food critic buys and eats $250 restaurant pizzas when they are out of most people's reach and not "things we might actually want to try".

I can't see much sign of readers diving in to comment but it's early days and you have to know the blog is there because, while it's listed on the Blogs page, it's not currently signposted from elsewhere, or at least not from the homepage.

The blog is anchored by the paper's Reader's Representative, Jamie Gold, and features "Q&A - readers'
questions and staffers' answers on how The Times covers stories; Ask a Staffer - a chance to get the story behind the story from reporters, photographers and editors; Whatever Happened To - where readers can ask for updates on past stories; and Grammar Critiques."

The latter will be a godsend for those dedicated readers who take it upon themselves to keep newspapers on the straight and narrow over split infinitives and acronym usage.

There's an annoying glitch where the click-through from the abstract dumps you at the bottom of the story page instead of the top, which will no doubt get ironed out.

But overall the page is user friendly, has some good links to staff lists, ombudsmen and FAQs on things like ethics, accuracy and how page one stories are chosen, and will likely prove useful for motivated readers who want to know more about how the paper works and who to get in touch with.