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The perils of "Indiana Jones" on the front page

May 20, 2008 |  2:25 pm

Indiana_jonesIndiana Jones landed on the front page on Monday in the form of a review written from Cannes, and a dozen readers took the time to take note. Bruce Hartzell said in an e-mail that he was "shocked and disappointed to see the L.A. Times run a review of the new Indiana Jones movie on the front page. What's next, a recap of 'American Idol'? The front page and front section of the paper should be focused on real news. The Calendar section is the appropriate section of the paper for film reviews."

"Whether there were more newsworthy subjects or not," wrote Will Campbell of Silver Lake, "I cringed at seeing Turan's glowing review of the latest Steven Spielberg film -- or mainly of Spielberg -- on the front page of today's L.A. Times.  I know it's below the fold, but it comes off as a big blatant sloppy wet one that has no business being anywhere on or near A1."

Slow news day or not, the idea of putting the review for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" on Page A1 had been discussed for a few days among a number of editors.

Entertainment editor Betsy Sharkey explains why the story was pitched for that spot: "It was one of the most anticipated films of the year, if not this decade, with interest crossing generational lines in an almost unprecedented way (parents who saw it as kids, and now their kids, all keenly interested in the film) and A1 is home to the most compelling news of the day -- in this case it was the first critical reaction to 'Indiana Jones: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.'"

Reviews on A1 are not common, but not unprecedented either. "The Passion of the Christ" was there in 2004, and "The Da Vinci Code" in 2006.

Taken into consideration in this case, says weekend editor Craig Turner, was the series' extreme popularity (as the review itself reported, it's earned $1.2 billion in worldwide ticket sales). Also, says Turner, the movie reviewer, Kenny Turan, "is one of our signature voices, one of the reasons people buy the L.A. Times." (Turner quibbles with Campbells' take on the review: "I disagree with the sentiment this was a 'big wet one.' It was a measured review that describes the film as a success, but it was far from a rave.")

Ultimately, says Turner, "We can't overlook that entertainment is arguably the leading industry in Southern California and America's No. 1 export. We cover entertainment closely and we will put entertainment stories on the front page that won't be on the front pages of other newspapers. That does not mean we're not a serious news organization; entertainment is serious news here."

Which means, as Sharkey points out, this won't be the last time such stories end up on A1: "We're increasingly pushing to have high-profile and significant entertainment coverage on our front page, as we are Hollywood's hometown paper."

(Placement of "American Idol" stories has been a subject of reader concern even before Hartzell's plaint about that show. Sharkey says that coverage of this week's finale will be pitched on Wednesday for Thursday's front page. That reader might have reason to write again.)

Photo: Lucasfilm