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The new faces of the city

Times Staff Writer

THE news on Nathan C. Baird-Hu’s Internet blog swung both high and low. He’d been happy about the prospects of a new job in the Los Angeles Unified School District, but his good mood ebbed when his mother’s chronic aches and fatigue were diagnosed as post-polio syndrome. “I know she’ll press on, faithful that God is God even in the midst of life’s mysteries.”

On the same morning, downtown blogger Eric Richardson wrote that he and “Kathy,” who “just got her bike Tuesday,” planned to join a new monthly community ride the next day, while Robert Dean blogged from near Griffith Park that he and a buddy planned to see a couple of bands at Spaceland that night. And from Mount Washington, blogger Heather Schlegel waxed poetic about herself and her city.

“I am in awe at the world,” she wrote on her Heathervescent website. “At the wind in the air. The palm tree-lined streets. The feeling of my clutch stick in my leather gloves. The French silk sky with ribbons of pink caramel.”

This is the daily face Los Angeles bloggers present to the world, and it is decidedly different from the image forged by decades of television, movie, newspaper, magazine and literary portrayals of the SoCal lifestyle. In this new etherworld, Hollywood, flowering bougainvillea and beaches are augmented by internal landscapes, closely observed neighborhoods, musings on politics or relationships and behind-the-scenes looks at myriad elements of local life.

At www.HotDogSpot.com a “crack team of dogophiles” posts regular updates on its quest for the city’s best hot dog. Contributors to www.PreserveLA.com detail efforts to save historic buildings and sites. The past gets rewound on 1947project.blogspot.com, with news events from 1947 written up as though they had just happened. And www.TheAesthetic.com tracks the South Bay arts world.

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Together, such blogs are less intentional guides to places than views of a city refracted through intensely personal lenses, giving readers vicarious tours of nooks and crannies they might otherwise miss. Add in the blogs’ visual cousins, Web cams, and you can soak up much of the city’s dysfunctional, contradictory glory from your computer, whether it’s in the Hollywood Hills, the Valley, the far reaches of Orange County or a remote farm in Iowa.

“Blogs comprise a really neat way of discovering L.A. in its complexity.... L.A. is juxtaposition incarnate, and most of our lives are too,” says Baird-Hu. “Blogging is a way of sharing my connection to the world. So much of media has been one way for so long, and blogging allows media to be so much more dynamic than that.”

Blogs are best known for their ability to bend political discourse and unravel shoddy journalism. But some experts think the blogs’ collage of life in Los Angeles -- and other cities -- could eventually recalibrate our sense of place, redefining not only how others see us but also how we see ourselves.

The local blogosphere is not quite there yet, but “it’s probably close to a critical mass of people who could make a difference,” says John Horrigan, research director for the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which has found through surveys that one in four adult Internet surfers reads blogs. “That is a sizable portion, even when it’s still a minority.” (Still, blogging has yet to break out of its relatively small corner of the Internet. Horrigan said Pew surveys found that only about 5% of all adults contribute to blogs.)

Finding a blog on a specific topic or place can be patience-draining. Google.com has a new blog-search engine, and blog-hosting sites like www.BlogSpot.com have their own search programs. And many blogs have links to other sites the blogger finds interesting, an Internet variation of word-of-mouth marketing. But gleaning a personal list of “must-read” sites takes persistence, like scanning the shelves at a used-book store to find something you like. The topics that impel people to blog, or that draw Web surfers to their sites, remain diffuse, creating countless virtual neighborhoods of people with like interests.

It’s unclear how much of an Internet juggernaut it will take to affect national perceptions of a place like Los Angeles. “It’s going to be really a smattering of that subset of blog readers who are going to be looking at local or place-oriented blogs,” Horrigan says. “How that affects the image of a city at large, that sort of thing has to be played out over a period of time.”

With Web cams, the image is shifted even further from the stereotypes as Web surfers peer at ever-changing snapshots of the city, from the mountain heights -- UCLA’s department of physics and astronomy maintains a Web cam atop Mt. Wilson at www.astro.ucla.edu/obs/towercam.htm -- to the street level, such as the www.hollywoodboulevardwebcam.com site looking down at people as they walk over the embedded bronze stars. LAAvenue.com offers the most organic view of the streets of L.A. through a Web cam perched on the dashboard of a service technician’s van, updating every 10 seconds during his workday.

IN an odd synchronicity, as the pervasiveness of the Internet and mass media homogenizes mass culture, blogs have become small independent voices, like blades of grass poking up through cracks in cement. They are gasps for air and identity in a city known from the outside as lacking a discernible sense of place.

“L.A. people, like most people, hunger for interaction and community and are relying more heavily on the blogosphere than those who live in places where other forms of interaction are more readily available,” says Joshua Meyrowitz, a media studies professor at the University of New Hampshire in Durham and author of “No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior.”

Meyrowitz cited his own local social crossroads, the Durham Marketplace grocery store, “where one almost always runs into friends, neighbors, co-workers, and where students and profs interact informally off campus.” Small, compact towns and even large, dense urban centers like New York City have similar spots, where neighbors routinely cross paths. But in a scattered, highly mobile place like Los Angeles, such interactions are less common, he said.

For Angelenos, blogs can represent a virtual replacement for the neighborhood coffee shop, Meyrowitz said. Blogging, in fact, could be a symptom of Los Angeles’ oft-cited lack of a discernible soul. Blogs can also expose the intricacies of individual lives to the outside world, presenting a more sympathetic view of who lives in a place without necessarily changing external perceptions of a city.

“The L.A. blogging, in my view, improves the image of people who live in L.A., without necessarily improving the impression of L.A. as a physical location,” says Meyrowitz, author of the recent essay “The Rise of Glocality: New Senses of Place and Identity in the Global Village,” included in the book “A Sense of Place: The Global and the Local in Mobile Communication,” edited by Kristof Nyiri.

“But people are part of the social landscape, so there is some improvement in image.... We all still think of L.A. as ‘the overstuffed land of shallow beauty and naked ambition.’ But maybe a few more years of blogging will help.”

Like the universe after the big bang, the initial chaos of the blogs has begun to consolidate into identifiable masses. Some, such as Gawker.com and FishbowlLA, are part of ambitious Web-based firms trying to grab large shares of the new blog universe by combining pre-Web interests, such as celebrity culture, with the Internet. Defamer.com recently snarked, “Dear God! Some horrible monster in a fuchsia sweatshirt swallowed Janet Jackson!” beneath an unflattering snapshot of the singer, and it offers a page for people to post details of celebrity sightings.

POLITICS runs heavy too, with intense, phlegm-flecked rants from the left, the right and those who consider themselves nonpartisan, equal-opportunity bashers of governmental and societal inanities. Media-watching is big on sites such as www.LAObserved.com, run by Kevin Roderick (a former Times staffer), and Patrick Frey’s Patterico’s Pontifications, Patterico.com, which mixes a conservative take on local media (particularly The Times, which has recently begun beefing up its blog presence) and politics at all levels.

But most of the blogs are still flecks of cosmic dust, taking us inside neighborhoods, homes and minds for intimate views of individual worlds.

Susan Campbell, who began blogging on her CinnamonThoughts.BlogSpot.com website in September, details the everydayness of her life, posting photos recently of a trip to “Not a Cornfield,” the “living sculpture” project between Chinatown and Lincoln Heights, and of the Cosmopolitan she had with her dinner afterward. She followed it up with snapshots of silver serving pieces she has collected.

On FranklinAvenue.BlogSpot.com, Michael Schneider and Maria Villar recently reported they had left town to spend their wedding anniversary in Las Vegas and posted pictures of their dinner on the one night Maria’s sister agreed to watch “Blog Baby,” their young son, Evan, so they could celebrate in style at a Thai restaurant. A few days later, they posted photos of a trip to a favorite grocery store, a local Vallarta Supermarket.

Not all blogs succeed in plumbing the routine of life, though. Especially when it cuts close to the bone. A search of Los Angeles-oriented blogs on www.GlobeofBlogs.com turned up the intriguing JayLovesKitti.blogspot.com site, self-described by Jay and Kitti as: “Our love/sex life. A running blog on the struggle for intimacy between a married couple with kids.”

Cached copies of the blog reveal intimate postings by both Jay and Kitti about sex, the changes in their relationship after having children and Kitti’s transition from a career to being an at-home mother -- all written with the candor of private letters. With a comments section, the typical pressures of marriage in flux were played out before an interactive audience.

The website has gone fallow.

“Goodbye,” Jay wrote in June above the freshly erased blog space. “The blog turned into a very bad thing for our relationship so now it’s gone.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

A census of senses, records of City Hall and so much more.

Finding the jewels among Los Angeles’ thousands of blogs can take some doing. This is a highly selective list of some of the more interesting -- and regularly updated -- blogs.

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POLITICS

Mayor Sam: Most of the political blogs take a national perspective, but Mayor Sam, written anonymously, focuses on Los Angeles’ City Hall and other Southland and California political issues. MayorSam.BlogSpot.com

Professor Bainbridge: A mostly conservative take on politics and economics from UCLA corporate law professor Stephen Bainbridge. www.ProfessorBainbridge.com

Politics in the Zeros: A leftist view, from international relations to South Los Angeles grass-roots fundraisers. www.PoliZeros.com

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MEDIA/CELEBRITY

LAObserved: Former Times staffer Kevin Roderick’s detached view of L.A. media and politics. The site for insiders. www.LAObserved.com

Defamer: A snarky view of media and celebrity culture. www.Defamer.com

FishbowlLA: Part of the Media Bistro family of blog sites, it offers a daily (though slow-posting) overview of L.A.-centric media stories. www.MediaBistro.com/FishbowlLA

LA Cowboy: Writer Brady Westwater unloads his six-shooter on the media, usually The Times. LACowboy.BlogSpot.com

Patterico’s Pontifications: Patrick Frey, a Los Angeles County prosecutor, takes on the press. Patterico.com

Pop Bytes: Gushy takes on the latest dish; the star-struck fan’s alternative to Defamer. www.PopBytes.com

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ARTS

The Aesthetic: A journal of “art and ideas” in the South Bay. www.TheAesthetic.com

Art Blogging LA: News and previews of L.A. art events. Art.Blogging.la

Ash Tree: An intensely personal view by Henry Baum as he struggles to make his mark as an author and songwriter. HBaum.blogspot.com

Autopia Music: Long Beach-based guide to L.A. rock bands. www.AutopiaMusic.com

The Elegant Variation: Mark Sarvas on the literary scene, with a emphasis on L.A. MarkSarvas.blogs.com/elegvar

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INSIDE THE BIZ

Paul Guyot: Writer Guyot keeps a sporadic diary of his work in television, most recently the travails of getting a TV pilot to come together. PaulGuyot.Blogs.com

Totally Unauthorized: Peggy Archer on her exhausting life as a movie crew member on FilmHacks.BlogSpot.com

A Writer’s Life: Mystery author and television writer Lee Goldberg’s view of two worlds: publishing and TV. He’s part of an extended family of nine bloggers: his brother, two sisters, mother and a passel of cousins. LeeGoldberg.TypePad.com

Alternative Film Guide: Short news bits from the world of film. www.altfg.com/blog

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PERSONAL

Ensie’s Blog: Nathan C. Baird-Hu’s daily life in L.A., usually including photos. Ensie.BlogSpot.com

Heathervescent: Inside the life of Heather Schlegel, in a blog that defies easy categorization. Heathervescent.blogs.com

Cinnamon Thoughts: Susan Campbell’s life, from the silver service her mother-in-law polished while she house-sat to a Death Valley camping trip. www.CinnamonThoughts.BlogSpot.com

Blogging L.A.: A rotating list of L.A.-centric bloggers on everything from a DUI crash in Hollywood to a benefit for the family of comic Freddy Soto, 35, who died in his sleep in July. Blogging.LA

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NEIGHBORHOODS

Preserve L.A.: Updates on efforts around the city to preserve the past and raise red flags when old buildings are threatened. www.PreserveLA.com

Echo Park: Sporadic updates on neighborhood news in Echo Park by M. Scott Fajack, president of the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park. EchoPark.net

Franklin Avenue: Life and dining by Variety television editor Michael Schneider and freelance art director Maria Villar. FranklinAvenue.BlogSpot.com

The Skunks of Los Feliz: Anonymous postings about happenings in and around Los Feliz. TheSkunksofLos Feliz.BlogSpot.com

Blog Downtown: Eric Richardson, a student at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, analyzes news and life in the growing downtown residential neighborhoods. www.BlogDowntown.com

L.A.'s Homeless Blog: Downtown-centric “insider perspective” of L.A.'s homeless by an advocate for the homeless. www.epath.org/blog/index.htm

Sacred Ordinary: Redondo Beach and environs by a spiritually inclined, semi-retired elementary school teacher, grandmother and cancer survivor. RedondoWriter.Typepad.com

2,000 Days in the Valley: Life in the Valley, observed from Van Nuys. ValleyDays.BlogSpot.com

VeniceBeach.org: Occasionally updated photo essay of life on and near the sand. VeniceBeach.org

West L.A. Online: Postings from the Westside. www.WestLAonline.com

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FOOD

You Gonna Eat That? One man’s encounters with food in his kitchen and in restaurants. ProfessorSalt.com

Barbecue Junkie: Just as the name implies, a griller’s guide to L.A. www.BBQJunkie.com

The Delicious Life: Sarah, a diner with no last name, loves to eat -- and blog about it. TheDeliciousLife.BlogSpot.com

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OUT THERE

1947 project: The year 1947 unfolds day by day, a noir look at the past in present tense. 1947project.BlogSpot.com

The Ambassador’s Last Stand: A daily photo blog of the demolition of the Ambassador Hotel, by the folks behind Franklin Avenue. www.AmbassadorHotel.BlogSpot.com

Truth in Cosmetic Surgery: An “only in L.A.” site, San Clemente cosmetic surgeon John Di Saia blogs about makeovers and occasionally posts photos of celebrities who probably should have sought a second opinion. CosmeticSurgeryTruth.BlogSpot.com

Pinky’s Paperhaus: About books. Mostly. Sort of. PaperHaus.Typepad.com/pp/

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-- Scott Martelle


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