By Richard Rushfield
Since the departure of chief entertainment columnist Patrick Goldstein from the LA Times a few weeks back, some blogs have been kinder than others in reviewing his tenure, including for my own fine colleague on this site Mr. Jim Gibson. Others elsewhere have had difficult personal histories with Patrick, and on that I can not comment. But as the conventional wisdom has settled in on how his passing from the LAT means the end of an era of remote, distant journalism from on high, I was finding myself becoming uneasy with this storyline, feeling like it did not quite match the Patrick I knew from my five years working as Entertainment Editor of LATimes.com. Before the page is turned, I wanted to get my own thoughts on record.
I’ll start out by saying, whatever others’ experiences may have been, my relationship was Patrick was never anything but friendly and warm, which in fact, was in glaring distinction to the feelings I received from many of his colleagues in the upper ranks of the paper, many of whom remained hostile to the paper’s web growth throughout my tenure.
Patrick had his differences with our web plans, but he always shared them with me directly, in a friendly and collegial way. He was personally always very gracious, not only with me but with my family members on their projects. As I say, there were differences, but they were always discussed without animosity or personal attack in as collegial and open a manner as I could have hoped for.
Further, by the standards of the LA Times newsroom, amazing as it may sound to some Patrick was a web pioneer. Like most, he resisted the move to a digital transformation at first, but ultimately became one of its biggest proponents within the Calendar section. Again there, were differences about how that digital transformation should proceed, but at a time when the baseline opinion of the LAT’s upper tier was basically that there shouldn’t be a website – at all – Patrick was one of the few arguing that the paper needed to invest more in the web, not less.
And he put his money where his mouth was. When Patrick started his blog, he had the cushiest of sinecures writing his weekly column for the paper. There was no particular great pressure at that point for him to start blogging. People had mentioned it to him, but as I say, the newsroom was still miles from thinking about the internet yet. What little pressure there was he could easily have brushed aside. But he volunteered to be a blogger. Volunteered to start writing instead of one column a week, multiple a day. That was, for the record, entirely his choice. I can’t say in his shoes, I would have volunteered to increase my workload twentyfold. But he saw where the world was headed and had a sense that he should jump in while there was still time. As I say, a piece of common sense that eluded most of his colleagues at the time. And, while I was there at least, he threw himself into it, took learning about the internet very seriously and he did it. People can debate the relevance of what he wrote, but he, while at the top of the hill was there at at time when the list of names of those who weren’t could fill an encyclopedia.
Once the blog got rolling, one can argue with the tone, the emphasis, the reporting, whatever you want, just like you can argue with the quality of any blog, but I’ll say this, he had a perspective to argue with. It may have felt too cozy, too insidery. But he had something to say. The problem with entertainment journalism today frankly is how much of it has nothing to say; has no perspective, no sense of history, no ability to sort the BS from the truth. Without any skills, or any even opinons on any issues, 98.7824 percent is reduced to nothing more than regurgitating press releases, parroting sources without the knowledge to question them or see their agendas, chasing meaningless minutiae and trumpeting it as “exclusives” or “toldjas.” Within this increasingly frantic, desperate and meaningless world of sturm and drung, Patrick’s blog was at worst, benign., and at its best, could do what no one else seems able to do these days, step back from the buzz of the moment and give it a bit of context and meaning.
People who can do that ever are a vanishing breed in this industry. One can almost count their names on the fingers of a single hand. And with the departures of Patrick and Geoff Boucher, the LA Times in the latest amazing chapter of its decade running slow motion suicide, lost two of them in one week.