Ron Fineman, a longtime California broadcast journalist and author of the Los Angeles television-insider “On the Record” website, died Saturday at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Santa Clarita after a lengthy battle with colon cancer. He was 54.
Fineman, who grew up in Los Angeles, chronicled the progress of the disease on his website -- ronfineman.com -- along with regular updates on local television news, seasoned with unforgiving assessments of what he considered to be less-than- professional performances. The website’s tone made it a controversial thorn to L.A. television personalities, but Fineman’s semiweekly updates were must-reads for those in the broadcasting business.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m leaving this world having contributed something important, and I hope people remember me for that,” Fineman said in a telephone interview Dec. 21, shortly after he was removed from a respirator at the hospital. “Some people were angry with what I wrote; some people took it in stride, and professionally. The real pros looked at the content of what I wrote and realized there was merit to what I was saying.”
Fineman said he was most satisfied when he was able to expose hypocrisy or conflicts of interest among journalists.
“He was like the conscience of television news reporting,” said Don Barrett, a friend who runs the website LARadio.com. “If he felt something wasn’t exactly the way it should be -- pronunciations, approaches, leaving parts of the stories in or out that didn’t belong -- he would point that out.”
The focus on hard news over fluff that infused Fineman’s website reflected his own journalism career, which included a stint managing a news division at a Bakersfield television station and freelance work for KNX-AM (1070) radio in Los Angeles -- a five-year gig he lost in 2002, he said, after a posting on his website upset managers.
“He never backed down from a fight,” said Diane Thompson, a longtime friend and former colleague at KNX. “He was very tenacious, especially when he thought a TV station had really taken a downturn and gone the tabloid route.”
Fineman was particularly harsh over conflicts of interest, but he also teed off on marketing ploys, such as trotting out female on-air newscasters in revealing clothing.
“He had a kind of high standard for what television news should be,” said Kevin Roderick, whose website laobserved.com fills a similar watchdog role for local print media. “He was kind of old-fashioned in his tastes. He didn’t like ‘happy talk,’ a lot of banter between the anchors. He definitely did not appreciate women who dressed in anything other than very professional on stage.”
Rosalie Fox, an Associated Press radio reporter who worked with Fineman in the early 1980s in Bakersfield, saw him as a blend of news reporter and commentator. He won three Golden Mike awards for commentary, most recently in 2001 for work at KPCC-FM (89.3) in Pasadena.
“Ron always wanted to do more than report,” Fox said. “He compared and critiqued coverage, forcing readers to step back from their stories and think. He let no one slide.”
She described Fineman as a virtual mentor on ethics.
“I find when I read” Fineman’s postings, she said, “I’m inspired to do a better job. I hope the site remains up forever.”
Fineman was born in Los Angeles and attended Fairfax High School and West L.A. College before earning a history degree from UCLA in 1974.
After several years as a disc jockey in Lompoc and Arroyo Grande, he joined KNTB-AM, then a Bakersfield talk radio station, in 1981, and later moved to KERN-AM in Bakersfield and KQXR-FM. He returned to the Los Angeles area briefly, then moved into television at KERO-TV in Bakersfield, where he remained until the mid-1990s before again moving back to Los Angeles.
Fineman began working part-time for KNX in 1997, and also did occasional commentaries for KPCC.
He is survived by his wife, Christy Knorr, a news producer at KCAL-TV Channel 9; a son, James Fineman of Bakersfield; and a brother, Ken Fineman of Santa Ana.