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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

I caught a behind-the-scenes glimpse this week at a promising new model for the niche future of news that left me feeling actually kind of optimistic.

I needed the encouragement since the bad news just keeps coming for the media as we know it.

The Rocky Mountain News in Denver published its final edition today. It became the first big-city paper to fail as the end game for printed newspapers begins to come into focus, whether we like it or not.

In San Francisco, the venerable Chronicle could be next. Its owner, the Hearst Corporation, said it will try to save the Chronicle by cutting expenses deeply, but it also mentioned putting the paper up for sale. If no buyer comes forth, Hearst says it will close the Chronicle.

Here in L.A., the media model for covering Hollywood and entertainment is also correcting.

The Daily News, which is shrinking back into a local defender of all things Valley, laid off its entertainment writers.

Several more reporters checked out at Daily Variety, which is fading as a must-read in the business. Defamer, the blog that thrived as a snarky observer of the celebrity scene, was folded into its sister website in New York.

The L.A. Times, meanwhile, announced it would reorganize its Business and Entertainment desks to try a New Way of reporting on Hollywood. This was accompanied by yet another vow – this must be the hundredth I've heard -- that the Times intends to “own” coverage of the entertainment beat.

Now, in Hollywood the Times has never really come close to the depth and reporting heft that would cause anyone to say the paper owns the beat.

Stories are just as likely to be broken by the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times.

Or, increasingly, by online operations like the newest competitor in the field, The Wrap.com.

The Wrap is the encouraging development that I mentioned up top.

It was started by the New York Times' former Hollywood beat reporter, Sharon Waxman, with help from other experienced journalists and seed money from a venture capital firm co-founded by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

The launch party at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills had the trappings of a more established Hollywood presence.

Photographers snapped arrivals on the carpet. An impressive bounty of appetizers was offered, from sushi to mini cheeseburgers.

Wine and vodka flowed freely, and the milling guests included some mid-level executives along with a ton of publicists and some media types.

The real work takes place in a cramped guest house north of Montana in Santa Monica. There, a white board lists story ideas and the phone numbers of staffers and contributors.

A hand-scrawled list reminds everyone of the dated Hollywood jargon that the Wrap intends to avoid. Words that Variety overuses, like boffo and helmer.

Squeezed into desks and chairs were, among others, a recently laid off editor from the LA Times Calendar section. The Wrap's managing editor, Lew Harris, was the longtime editor of Los Angeles Magazine and the founding editor of E! Online. He also held senior positions at People and US Weekly.

Now, like the rest of them, he's breaking stories on a startup website. There are a few kids involved, but the foundation is journalism veterans looking to make a go of the new media order.

Waxman, the former New York Times reporter who started The Wrap, says she hopes there's a place for a site devoted to real news about Hollywood. Not just the celebrity chasing that other sites do to attract eyeballs.

This kind of serious coverage needs to pay for itself, because as she emphasizes, good journalists can't work for free. That's a model I can support. It's still early, but here's hoping it proves out.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.


Banner image: Final edition of the Rocky Mountain News

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