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LA Times Book Fest: The Times, They Aren't A-Changin'

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Saturday’s “The Future of News” panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books was quite a raucous event. Panelists were James Taranto, editor of the Wall Street Journal’s opinion website, ABC News political analyst Mark Halperin and Times editor James O’Shea (whose introduction met with hisses and boos). The discussion was moderated by Marjorie Miller from the Times, who opened with the comforting observation that ”we don’t really have a clue about the future of news.”

The consensus, of course, was that the future of news lies in the almighty Web, ironic since as I was taking notes on my computer for this blog, one of the festival volunteers informed me that I couldn’t use a laptop. Afterwards, I made me way to the volunteer center to talk to one of the volunteer coordinators, who said volunteers use their “own judgment” in those matters. When I asked for a copy of their training material that outlines what tools the media are allowed to use, he refused to give it to me. So much for “the future of news” as seen through the eyes of the Times.

But more trouble brewed at the panel discussion. Questions afterward revealed a manifest distrust and bitterness for the major print media. Audience members complained about the unilateralism and cheapening of news reporting. One woman even lamented that now she has to go to multiple sources to get at the truth. Gasp!

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The recent purchase of the Tribune Co. by billionaire entrepreneur Sam Zell also appeared to make people nervous. One man extracted a promise from O'Shea that the Times will not bend to the interests of its new corporate owner. "I'm the editor of a paper, and I'm not gonna sit down and have anyone tell me what to put in the paper," said O'Shea. "Can I quote you on that?" the man demanded, while dodging my oh-so-vigilant volunteer as she attempted to rid him of his (also prohibited) video camera.

Panelists were then subject to the ranting of audience member Kathleen Rosenblatt, representing 9/ll Truth L.A., a group of conspiracy theorists who claim 9/11 was the work of the U.S. government abetted, it seems, by a cover-up perpetuated by the American media. Rosenblatt demanded answers from the panel about the 9/11 cover-up. "Where is our Bob Woodward to bring the story out?" she railed, as the audience drowned her out with heckling.

On the subject of the Iraq war, O'Shea admitted the media "just didn't dig deep enough," while Miller and Taranto defended the media's missteps. "Let's also not forget that every intelligence agency in the world go this wrong," said Taranto.

"It was the American newspapers that lied to the American people!" yelled another 9/11 Truth L.A. member from the back of the audience, quickly putting an end to the event.

photo by Homer-Dog