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I stopped picking on LA Times travel writer/blogger Susan Spano, mostly because it's too easy, and thus, too boring. But, this is just unbelievable. She photographs tents along the Seine (badly, as usual, so they're practically imperceptible -- perhaps because she's too much of a dinosaur to understand the medium of the blog), and then writes:

This is conceivably the best place to sleep in Paris, except when it rains.

Cute, Suze!

The problem is, these are not tents erected for some winter version of Paris Plage (turning the banks of the Seine into a beach scene in the summer), but tents put out for the homeless. Is she just a heartless bitch -- or an overpaid simpleton with press credentials?

Here's the word on the tents from The New York Times, from a story by Craig S. Smith:

Since the frigid days of late December, Doctors of the World, a French organization that helps the homeless, has been distributing nylon tents to the growing number of people who sleep on the city's sidewalks and beneath its bridges.

Not everyone is pleased.

"They're ugly," said a short woman with a large red purse marching past two tents in the affluent Seventh Arrondissement, where four young Poles are living beneath the sycamores with a view of the Hôtel des Invalides.

There are thousands of people living on the streets of Paris, many of them newly arrived immigrants from European Union countries to the east, and Doctors of the World vows to continue distributing tents until the government finds housing.

For now, the city authorities tolerate the tents. But as word spreads among immigrants, the phenomenon could spread. Already, some charitable Parisians are giving the homeless tents, and some of the homeless are procuring them on their own.

That's fine with Doctors of the World, which says the more tents there are, the more pressure on the government to address the problem.

Here's a bigger version of Spano's photo. Let's take bets on whether she'll allow the comment I left to be seen. Here it is:

These are tents put out for the homeless. Are you a journalist or an overpaid simpleton?

For anyone with any knowledge of Paris reading her blog, I think the answer is pretty clear.

Travel journalists/columnists I respect include Chris Elliott and the rest at Tripso. For business travel, I like Joe Sharkey in The New York Times. For Parisian blog items actually worth reading, I turn to Laurie Pike's Paris group blog, The Paris Blog (formerly In Paris Now).

Posted by aalkon at May 7, 2006 11:29 AM

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My comments to "pcs from paris" have not been published lately. To her postcard about the economics of getting a taxi from Opéra to CDG, I remarked "You left out the most important part, namely how you got from your apartment in the 7ème to Opéra. Or was this, perhaps, after a one-night stand with a gentleman in the 9ème?"

[I speak as one who has spent a few nights under Pont Neuf]

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at May 7, 2006 5:36 PM

Not publishing criticism is shades of Hiltzik to me -- cheating to transform the discussion.

In addition to my natural penchant for digging up the truth, I know people (Crid, for one), will kick my ass in the comments if I get something wrong -- as well he (and anyone else) should. Operating differently (ie, erasing the remarks of people who knock what you've written) isn't fair blogging; it's journalism as some hybrid of PR.

Spano has shown such aggressive laziness and incuriousness in her blog writing, I'm not surprised when you and others tell me their comments don't see the light of day. I've heard this from at least two people that I can recall at the moment. It's been my experience, too.

As a fervent advocate of free speech, I've deleted from this blog maybe four comments...maybe...since 2003, and only because they were libelous (two, I believe), or were posted by somebody hijacking somebody else's identity (the other two...maybe three). To name one example, there was a post, supposedly by Alan, from Ain't It Cool News, that was posted from the same Wisconsin IP address used by Jane Langdon, the women I criticized for using designers' own runway photos to sell knockoffs of their dresses! DEEEEEELETED!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 7, 2006 5:56 PM

As a long time reader of the LAT and someone with an interest in comments of Americans in Paris, I tried very hard to read S.Spano's blog when it first started, and again several months later. But she is incomprehensibly ignorant of so much going on around her and how to interpret it, and she cannot even turn a phrase. I cannot conceive of how she convinced the Times editors to pay her to write that tripe she writes from Paris. If Michael Hiltzik is forced into the equivalent of journalistic exile by the Times, the least they could have done was sent him into real world exile to blog from Paris. At least we would have had a comprehensible and thoughtful writer, and somebody with a little more sensitivity (even if thin-skinned) than that ignoramus Spano.

And yeah, the one time I posted a critical comment to her blog it was not printed. So I assumed that was the modus operandi for LAT bloggers. I was genuinely surprised by the dust up when Hiltzik was censured for the same, given that she has been doing the same for so long.

Thanks Amy for commenting and making this public. (And I read the comment that credited you on the IPN blog.)

Posted by: dano at May 7, 2006 9:16 PM

Thanks Amy for alerting us to yet another, particularly disgraceful poop from la Spano -- I gave up reading her a long time ago.

Knowing her penchant for censoring readers' comments, I wrote the following directly to the LAT:
"Spano's latest post about the homeless tents in Paris is a shame. I'm not even talking about her previous posts, which, when one has the courage to put up with them, demonstrate that she's a clueless idiot, one of those myopic bigots whose mind is simply incapable of traveling and understanding other cultures. Now she's even morphing into a Marie-Antoinette. Why don't you send a real travel writer to Paris, for a change? You would do your paper a favor -- truly."

Posted by: FroginLA at May 7, 2006 10:09 PM

Hello Amy ! (smile)

Spano is still there ? Migod. This beggars the imagination. (sigh)

How can anyone put any credence into what the LA Times says about antything at all, when it allows Simple Susie free rein about something she knows very little - if anything - about ?

Perhaps the LA Times doesn't understand what blogging is all about ?

A hint to the LA Times: a blog is supposed to enhance the newspaper, not turn it into an object of disdain and ridicule worldwide.



Posted by: L'Amerloque at May 8, 2006 1:42 AM

Great to see you, L'Amerloque. And I'm with you on that.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 8, 2006 7:37 AM

At least La Spano has now corrected herself (and published critical comments).

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at May 9, 2006 6:07 AM

What's funny, though, is that she holds all her comments for "approval," so everybody in her comments section said the exact same thing since they had no way of knowing somebody else said it first. (Surely, the last thing she wants to do is foster open discussion between her commenters.) Here, on the other hand, people are free to announce that I've been an idiot -- and frequently do.

PS Just my opinion, but I doubt she would have let my comment fly if I hadn't publicly noted that I'd tried to post it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 9, 2006 6:30 AM

Amy, I expect you're right that she wouldn't have allowed your comment if there hadn't been comments about her and her blog-comment suppresion in other places. It's now posted up to Kevin Roderick's LA Observed as well.

The good thing about her holding comments "for approval" then is that suddenly there are a number of comments that say the same thing!

Posted by: dano at May 9, 2006 7:34 AM

LA Observed picked it up:

In all fairness, the LAT deputy travel editor replied to my note (above), and offered to publish it. I also copied him on your blog. They must have felt that something needed to be done, hence perhaps Spano's posting of comments and half-baked apology? She refers to a "recent article in the IHT" about the tents: I wonder where she was when they were distributed last Autumn, mushroomed all over Paris in below freezing temperatures, and attracted inescapable press coverage? Perhaps she thought this was some sort of ecotourism?

Posted by: Frog in LA at May 9, 2006 8:26 AM

FYI Amy - comments are held for review on LAT blogs as a matter of paper policy. It's not up to the individual blogger, though you are correct that they can review and chose not to publish remarks if they wish. Is that right? Dunno, but nobody asked for my opinion when forming the policy. I say better to just publish all comments and let the chips fall where they may (which is what I did when you sent a nasty... er, um pointed Susan post to my old blog at The Daily Traveler).

ps - thanks for the tip about identity theft from a boarding pass. May follow that up with a story.

Posted by: James Gilden at May 9, 2006 6:01 PM

Up for review is one thing. Up for selective censorship is another.

My comments on the columns portion of my site are held pending approval. My boyfriend formatted them that way, but I'm glad he did, because I get a couple thousand spam I have to delete on this blog every day. Still, I'm careful to check the comments often and approve EVERYTHING but spam. Then again, I write and research my ass off, so I don't worry that people will catch me in errors all the time.

Spano has an opportunity, but she wastes it with mediocre thinking and writing and photos unsuited for the medium.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 9, 2006 10:00 PM

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