Misadventures In Media
16

Killer Cops And Newspaper Wars On The California Coast

"America's largest open-air mental hospital," that's how Oceanside police spokesman Bob George described this run-down coastal city between Camp Pendleton and the surfer towns of North San Diego County. I called it the Slum by the Sea. Despite the miles of beach and the beautiful old Spanish mission and the Southern California weather, Oceanside was a honky tonk Marine Corps town on the west side of Interstate 5 and a sprawling mess of trailer parks and starter-home suburbs to the east.

I spent a lot of time at Bob's desk in the back of the OPD headquarters. Sometimes it was as a police beat reporter, sometimes it was as the [...]

3

An Internet Tabloid In The Time Of Comets And Mass Suicide

On the night after the Heaven's Gate UFO cultists were discovered dead by mass suicide in a San Diego suburban McMansion, I was standing in a dark patch of the Presidio, watching the Hale-Bopp comet and its forked tail over the Marin Headlands. Someone passed around binoculars, somebody else passed a little pipe around, and after a half hour everyone was cold and bored and we drifted back to the battleship-gray Victorian on Haight Street that I shared with a rotating group of five or six pals.

My bedroom was just a large closet on the upper floor, with enough room for a narrow mattress and a chest [...]

7

How To Fail At Journalism In Exotic Foreign Lands

Budapest had never been my favorite European capital, but a job in a foreign city is always better than a job wherever I happen to be living at the moment. This is why, on a balmy Southern California morning in February of 1996, I voluntarily carried my only possessions to Los Angeles International Airport's Tom Bradley terminal the customary three hours prior to departure. The first two hours passed pleasantly at the airport lounge, where my friend Steve and I drank double Greyhounds served in pint glasses.

The Double Greyhound is just a lot of vodka with grapefruit juice to soften the blow. We had been drinking these regularly in [...]

5

The Rise and Fall of the L.A. Examiner, a Blog That Was a Newspaper That Never Existed

My office was the living room closet in a huge one-bedroom in a 1920s East Hollywood apartment court, across the street from the big blue Scientology headquarters in the old Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. There were built-in bookshelves and just enough space for a chair and a laptop and an ashtray. The neighbor lady's rescued pit bulls romped outside in the overgrown garden, and that electric L.A. sunlight came filtered through the grimy old French windows to the hardwood floors. It was a very pleasant place to work, my friends lived within walking distance in other cheap apartments in Los Feliz, and I had a bad case of being in [...]

6

Help Wanted: Seeking Young Hemingway To Cover Retired Americans In Belize

Dublin was busy with construction and slick with rain. I tried to recognize landmarks through the taxi windows—mossy stone gate here, mossy stone church there—while the cab driver told me how the Irish were all getting rich and he had finally been able to move back home from the impossible hell of Scotland. It was the end of 1999, I had just flown from Washington to interview for a magazine called International Living, the new hotel-pub where I was staying was owned by someone from the band U2, in 24 hours I would be back at the airport, and life felt like a Thomas Friedman column.

The registration desk [...]

9

How To Accidentally 'Invent Liveblogging'

When Joe Biden and Zombie Ayn Rand Paul Ryan begin their televised debate Thursday night, hundreds of professional media employees will be "liveblogging" the proceedings for hundreds of topical websites, from the New York Times to (maybe?) PerezHilton.com. Millions of otherwise sane humans will turn on the television and then frantically reload the websites of their favorite bloggers while simultaneously making their own jokes on Twitter, Facebook and probably in the comments of the aforementioned websites. After digesting and processing thousands of one-liners and spot reactions and weird jokes about the candidates' genitalia, the now-informed electorate will "pick the best candidate," which is a fake Big Bird account on [...]

1

How To Get Your Readers To Write Your Newspaper For You

An old schoolhouse, two feed stores, an "84 Lumber" yard, the sheriff's substation and a western wear store were the notable tenants on the main street of Lakeside, California. It was just a half-hour's drive from the beaches of San Diego, but it had the dusty half-abandoned look of a Texas panhandle town. The "lake" was a pond in the small park at the end of the road. State Highway 67 ran parallel to the two-block-long downtown, and in a faded Old West-themed plywood strip mall, a lean middle-aged man in a brown corduroy sports coat was behind his desk with his typewriter and a coffee mug full of Bushmill's, [...]

10

I Was A Teenaged Anchorman

It was a supply closet off the main classroom, six feet across, with the only wall decoration being a length of pine board with a row of nails sticking out. Because of the terrible noise inside, the door was always shut. The two machines, industrial-era things that clamored and shook, spewed out a steady stream of hurt and lies and death. On this San Diego afternoon I was in the little room with my coffee, going through the accumulated Associated Press and UPI news that had cranked out of the wire machines during lunch and whatever regular classes I might have attended that day. Local stories, national and international [...]