What would be a confusing declamation uttered by anyone else becomes perfectly clear when uttered from the likes of Roger Ebert: film criticism is here to stay, even though its future looks in store to receive a makeover deeming it barely recognizable.

A CNN report this week took the announcement of Richard Roeper’s departure from “At the Movies” as a sign that the last vestiges of classic-form movie reviewing are going the way of VHS: that is to say, existing in another format, yet still so obsolete in one sense.

Roeper took over for the late Gene Siskel after Siskel’s death in 1999 ended the longtime on-air chemistry he shared with Ebert. Their “At the Movies” invented the format of taking the one-sided film review off the printed page and introducing it into a debate between two knowledgeable film historians with great rapport yet differing personalities.

But Roeper’s departure from the show, from which Ebert has been absent due to illness, may bring an end, at least for some duration, to the generation of film critics we’ve come to know and love.

Can celluloid critique weather the changes in media today? Will it go the gossipy route? Will it become one big digital festoon of amateur Internet reviewers? Or can it remain faithful to its film school/journalistic roots?

The story can be found here: http://www.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/TV/07/25/tv.film.critics.ap/index.html

Oh dear. Even behind those pearly-white, smiling exteriors lurk some dark and sinister skeletons bounding out of the closet. Despite the seamless, natural on-air chemistry we so often see in our trusted TV anchormen and women, these two Philadelphia reporters were apparently at each others’ throats in this email scandal that is newsworthy in and of itself.

From CNN:

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (AP) — A longtime television newscaster was charged Monday with illegally accessing the e-mail of his glamorous former co-anchor, who suspected details of her social life were being leaked to gossip columnists.

Federal prosecutors say fired KYW-TV anchor Larry Mendte accessed Alycia Lane’s e-mail accounts hundreds of times and leaked her personal information to a Philadelphia Daily News reporter.

Lane’s personal life had routinely become tabloid fodder and eventually led to her own dismissal from the station.

“The mere accessing and reading of privileged information is criminal,” acting U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid said. “This case, however, went well beyond just reading someone’s e-mail.”

Mendte was charged with a felony count of intentionally accessing a protected computer without authorization. A conviction could bring a six-month prison term under federal sentencing guidelines.

Mendte gained access to Lane’s accounts for more than two years, prosecutors said. In a five-month span starting in January, Mendte accessed her accounts approximately 537 times, authorities said.

He was fired from Philadelphia’s CBS affiliate last month after FBI agents searched his home and seized his computer.

Mendte’s attorney, Michael Schwartz, said the charge against Mendte “should not come as a surprise to anyone.”

“As we continually have said from day one, Larry has been cooperating fully with the investigators. He continues to cooperate and will accept full responsibility for his actions,” Schwartz said Monday.

Lane was fired from KYW in January after a series of embarrassing off-camera incidents, including her arrest following a late-night scuffle with plainclothes police in New York City.

Lane later sued the station, alleging it maliciously damaged her reputation by deliberately promoting her personal life to generate publicity. The station has denied Lane’s allegations.

Mendte has been off the air since May 29, the day his home was searched and computer seized. He was fired June 23, days after Lane filed her lawsuit in which she also alleged that keeping Mendte on the payroll during a federal probe amounted to sex discrimination.

Mendte and Lane anchored the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts from September 2003 until Lane was fired. Her lawyer has said Mendte was jealous because she was making $700,000 a year at the time she was fired, somewhat more than Mendte.

Blogging behind bars

July 18, 2008

Scott Peterson.

Scott Peterson, San Quentin's blogger extraordinaire.

Scott Peterson’s new role as a blogophile won’t be doing him much good in deflating his infamy as a death row inmate and convicted killer in one of the worst murder cases in the history of the world 10 times over.

Apparently, the San Quentin prisoner now has his own Web presence, where he still maintains innocence in the slaying of his wife, Laci Peterson, and the couple’s unborn child.

Sharon Rocha, Laci’s mother, is none too happy about her ex-son-in-law’s self-penned publicity, as she told Larry King in an interview, basing her belief that criminals should have zero privileges, most of which includes no access to any media that connects to the outside world.

Is it an undeserved piece of freedom if incarcerated convicts are allowed use of the Internet? Does it cheapen the prison system in any way? You decide.

A transcript of the Rocha interview is here: http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/07/18/laci.peterson.mom/

The Life of Riley

July 14, 2008

Olive Riley, presumed to be the world’s oldest Web blogger, has died at the age of 108. According to news reports on her death, Riley had plenty to recount on her Internet diary: living through two world wars, for example, while recounting how times and generations have changed through the 20th, and now 21st, centuries.

One thing Riley shared with the younger crowd – proof that people of all ages have joined the “New Journalism” realm and taken up blogging. Or, as Riley would have it, “blobbing.”

CNN’s obituary for the Australian resident:

An Australian woman often described as the world’s oldest blogger has died at the age of 108 after posting a final message about her ailing health but how she sang “a happy song, as I do every day.”

Olive Riley died Saturday at a nursing home in New South Wales.

Riley posted more than 70 entries on her blog — or “blob” as she jokingly called it — since February 2007.

On the site, The Life of Riley, and in a series of videos post on YouTube, Riley mused on her day-to-day life. She also recounted living through two world wars and raising three children on her own while working as a cook and a bar maid.

“She had a wonderful memory, and an amazing zest for life,” said her friend Eric Shackle, who met Riley at a nursing home while visiting his wife, who has since passed. “Just two weeks ago, she recalled the words of a song that was popular before World War II, and sang the chorus with me.”

In a post titled “Washing Day,” Riley wrote: “You 21st Century people live a different life than the one I lived as a youngster in the early 1900s. Take washing day, for instance. These days you just toss your dirty clothes into a washing machine, press a few switches, and it’s done.”

She then described how she helped do laundry as a youngster, starting with finding “a few pieces of wood to fire the copper for Mum.”

“When the water in the copper began to boil, Mum would add a cupful of soap chips, and throw in a cube of Reckitt’s Blue wrapped in a muslin bag to whiten the clothes,” she wrote. “Then she put in all the dirty clothes, first rubbing out the stains with a bar of Sunlight soap. … that was jolly hard work.”

Riley was born in 1899 and would have turned 109 on October 20. She took up blogging at the suggestion of Mike Rubbo, who filmed a documentary on her life four years ago.

“First of all, I had to explain to her what a blog was and that took some doing,” Rubbo said. “Then I got across the idea it was sort of a diary that she would share with the world.

“The reason for its popularity is that she was such a standout talent — just so touching and funny and such a great story teller.”

Various others have at times been labeled the world’s oldest blogger, including Spain’s Maria Amelia who was born in 1911 and given a blog by “my grandson, who is very stingy.”

Riley was 12 years older than Amelia.

In her final post, dated June 26, Riley wrote how she felt weak “and can’t shake off that bad cough.”

She wrote of singing a “happy song, as I do every day,” with a visitor to the nursing home, “and before long we were joined by several nurses, who sang along too. It was quite a concert!”

Said Shackle: “The thousands of loving messages she received from fellow bloggers in such places as Iceland, India, Iran, North and South America and Australia helped keep her alive in her final year.

“Her only regret was that she couldn’t reply to them.”

That’s the general message being delivered by L.A. Times Editor Russ Stanton regarding the paper’s decision this week to cut 250 of its employees, 60 percent of that number amounting to editorial staff.

The Southern California newspaper, like many other publications across the country, is suffering from a combo of harsh economic times and a shift away from the printed page towards new forms of media.

Now, if it wasn’t for the Internet, blogs like this and others wouldn’t exist, but there has been strong opinion that print media is suffering at the hands of increasing technology in the digital age. And it’s not just the writers; advertising reps are affected just as much as workers at the printing plant, just as much as the delivery person who brings the physical product to readers’ doorsteps. That is, the readers many print outlets have left.

How much longer has print media got? The Times report on its own casualties follows below:

The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday announced plans to cut 250 positions across the company, including 150 positions in editorial, in a new effort to bring expenses into line with declining revenue. In a further cost-cutting step, the newspaper will reduce the number of pages it publishes each week by 15%.

“You all know the paradox we find ourselves in,” Times Editor Russ Stanton said in a memo to the staff. “Thanks to the Internet, we have more readers for our great journalism than at any time in our history. But also thanks to the Internet, our advertisers have more choices, and we have less money.”

He also noted that the poor economy had struck particularly hard at the California housing market, traditionally a robust source of advertising revenue for The Times.

The cuts reflect conditions across the newspaper industry, which is confronting sharply deteriorating print advertising revenues. Although online ad revenues are rising, they have not made up for the losses. Amid the current nationwide economic slowdown, the prospects are for continued revenue shrinkage through the end of this year.

Times Publisher David Hiller said the goal of the cuts was to “get to where we need to be for the long term. We want to get ahead of the economy that’s been rolling down on us and get to a size that will be sustainable.”

Hiller said the size of the reductions was predicated on the expectation that the economy would “bottom out and reach equilibrium” early next year. The editorial staff cuts will be among 250 positions cut across all departments of The Times, including circulation, marketing and advertising, Hiller said. Companywide employment will be about 3,000 after the reductions, he said.

The editorial staff cuts, which amount to roughly 17%, will be spread between the print newsroom and The Times’ Web operations and are to be completed by Labor Day. The two operations employ about 876 people, meaning that the editorial staff will remain above 700. The paper would continue to have one of the largest corps of editors and reporters in the country. Details on the reductions, including severance terms, will be forthcoming.

Hiller said he expected that the severance terms would match those of earlier staff buyouts at The Times, including payment equivalent to two weeks’ salary for every year of service, up to a maximum of 52 weeks, to be paid into the employee’s retirement account. One issue still under study, Hiller said, is whether the reductions trigger the California Worker Adjustment and Retaining Notification Act, or WARN, which requires 60 days’ notice of impending layoffs under certain circumstances.

As part of the reduction process, Stanton said, The Times will be combining its print and Web staffs into a single operation with a unified budget.

“These moves will be difficult and painful,” Stanton said in his memo. “But it is absolutely crucial that as we move through this process, we must maintain our ambition and our determination to produce the highest-quality journalism in print and online, every day.”

The cuts are the latest, and among the most severe, in a series of reductions that have pared The Times’ editorial staff down from its 2001 level of nearly 1,200. The most recent reductions, announced in February, involved the elimination of more than 100 jobs in all Times departments, including more than 40 in the newsroom.

The reductions have come amid considerable management turmoil: In 2006, then-Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson and Editor Dean Baquet publicly refused to make cuts requested by management at Tribune Co., owner of The Times. Both eventually left the newspaper. Tribune was then a publicly traded company, but it has since been taken private in a buyout led by Chicago entrepreneur Sam Zell.

Johnson was succeeded by Hiller. Baquet was replaced by James O’Shea, then the managing editor of the Chicago Tribune; O’Shea departed in January, also after objecting to planned cuts in the newsroom budget. Stanton, a 10-year veteran of The Times, was named editor three weeks later.

Announcements of hundreds of reductions were issued only last week by dailies in Boston, San Jose, Detroit and elsewhere. Among Tribune newspapers, the Baltimore Sun said it would cut about 100 positions by early August and the Hartford Courant announced plans to cut about 50 newsroom positions. The New York Times and the Washington Post both instituted layoffs or buyouts to reduce their staffs this year.

Besides the changes in the newspaper industry, Tribune carries the burden of about $1 billion in annual payments on its debt, much of which it took on to finance the $8.2-billion buyout.

Since the buyout, which became effective at the end of December, Zell has moved to reduce the debt through asset sales. A $650-million sale of the suburban New York daily Newsday is pending, and the sale of the Chicago Cubs along with the baseball team’s iconic Wrigley Field ballpark and related properties is expected to bring in $1 billion or more when it is completed, probably this year.

Zell said last month that the Newsday sale and new credit arrangements would ensure that the company would meet its interest and principal obligations this year and would remain in compliance with its loan agreements.

“Even with the reductions, this is one amazing place with great people and great customers,” Hiller said, “and we’re going to keep doing amazing work for them.”

michael.hiltzik@latimes.com