Over THE past few weeks, whenever I’ve told someone that I’m starting a new Big Picture blog here at The Times, they invariably have the same reaction: That’s nice, but are you going to keep the column? I know it’s meant as a compliment, but it’s also a bracing reminder that people prefer familiarity to, well, unfamiliarity.
It’s why Hollywood keeps churning out sequels. It’s why “Law & Order” has been on TV forever. It’s why, back when I was a kid, whenever I’d go see the Allman Brothers, before they’d even had a chance to play some of their new material, some scruffy dude up in the rafters would invariably bellow out, “Whipping Post!”
But in journalism it’s time for a change -- big change. As you might have heard, this newspaper, along with every other paper in the country, is under siege. Our whole business model is in free fall -- circulation is dropping, profits are down and lots of talented people are losing their jobs. We can moan and groan about it or we can try something new.
That’s the idea behind launching the Big Picture blog. As much as I’ve loved writing a once-a-week column, the world of entertainment and pop culture is moving so fast that it’s become impossible to keep up with all the action without weighing in more often than once a week. Over the last few years, I’ve found myself addicted to reading blogs. The best ones offer a wonderfully brainy, personal and irreverent way of seeing the world. If you go to our website, you’ll see the paper now has 40-plus blogs, with more being launched all the time. (To read mine, go to latimes.com/thebigpicture.)
My guess is that someday soon our blogs will be the backbone of the paper. Journalists have discovered, to our chagrin, that information is everywhere these days. But readers still crave informed analysis and lively writing, which is something we can focus on as newspapers make the transition from mass circulation entities to niche-oriented publications. So while I’ve got lots to learn about the blogging life -- and will surely stumble many times along the way -- I’m eager to be a part of that new conversation.
But how will the new Big Picture blog be different from the old Big Picture column?
The honest answer is that it will be a work in progress. I’ll be writing with much the same style and sensibility that you’ve grown accustomed to in the column. But it will be broader in scope. As our logo reads, the blog is “where the worlds of entertainment, media and pop culture collide.”
I’ll also be experimenting with new features: Expect to see quicker hits off the news, earlier sneak peeks at movies, more analysis about how the media cover entertainment and, yes, more “interactive” elements. Translation: The blog will be more of a group effort. When “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl” opened last week, I knew I was out my league trying to offer any opinions, so I posted a review of the film from the smartest 10-year-old girl I knew. If anyone ever makes a movie about free-spirited seventysomethings, I expect you’ll hear my mother’s take on the subject.
I’m also eager to showcase the contributions of the rest of our entertainment staff, so when one of our reporters has a timely news story or a lively feature in the paper, expect to read more about what they uncovered -- or who took them to task -- in the blog.
And I encourage you to take me to task as well. As with any blog, a big part of my job is to encourage readers to turn it into a running dialogue. I’m hoping some of my best posts will be follow-up interviews and debates with people who see an issue in a different light from me. When I write a column, I always test out my ideas on people who often know far more about a topic than I do. In the past, that has stayed in my reporter’s notebook, but now it will be in the blog, where I hope it will make for a lively exchange of views.
As for that original question: What about the Big Picture column? It’s not going anywhere. It will run every Tuesday, as it always has, culled from all the material I’ve written up in the blog. My editors say they’ll also run separate blog posts in the paper on other days of the week. I look at the blog as a way to pursue what makes anyone a good writer: our curiosity about the world. It will be a learning experience for us all.
As the great John Wooden once put it: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
The Big Picture appears Tuesday in Calendar. E-mail questions or criticism to patrick.goldstein @latimes.com.