Thank You, Thomas Cole, Family & Ben

By T.J. Simers

My daughter says I am wasting my time writing a blog about a newspaper, the LA Times. She says newspapers are dead. “No one reads them anymore,” she says.

I hold out hope. Maybe not for a resurrection, but for more reasons to still pick up a paper.

I found one Sunday, wanting to pass it on as much for what it means to every parent but for how a morning newspaper can inspire.

The LA Times’ Ben Bolch, my sparring partner the past week on another front, sat down with UCLA’s Thomas Cole and his parents to discuss suicide and a child in crisis.

God almighty, it was gut-wrenching, a kid swallowing the pills and yet so helpful to every parent who has worried about their child taking their own life. And how many of us have been there, a real concern or not?

The story was rich in information, a boy spending so much time in bed in a darkened room, the invincible football player more vulnerable than anyone knew. But the story never got lost in a writer’s attempt to take advantage of the access and really go for the tears like some other columnists might have done.

It was just the facts, ma’am. but with a parent’s eye for detail.

A great, great job.

It is the single biggest reason I used to love newspapers, never knowing how I might be surprised and what I might learn when buying one. Those days are gone, as evidenced by the two tedious stories the editors felt compelled to showcase adjacent to “His Life Was On The Line.”

Bill Plaschke had a column on “Loaded Trojans Under Heavy Pressure” (like that is some new phenomena) to the left of Ben’s story and to the right was a story on the Dodgers adding a 36-year-old journeyman relief pitcher via trade.

I would have slapped “His Life Was On The Line” across the whole top of the sports section to let everyone know how important Ben Bolch’s work was on this Sunday morning.

Experts will tell you the Internet has killed newspapers. I disagree; newspapers are disappearing because most days there isn’t much more in them than the usual stats, twisted ankles and old news game stories.

Inside the newsroom, editors have made it clear to their reporters that newspapers are dead, and that’s inspiring.

The thrill of newspapers is gone because newspapers remain traditional and boring in coverage. If no one is reading them anymore then why not take wild, crazy chances to do something differently. Why not inspire reporters to go out there in quest of the story that might make a difference, like Ben’s wonderful recount of Thomas Cole’s life.

In part, that’s why Plaschke has remained No. 1 on the sports pages: He looks for the story that might hit someone emotionally between the eyes and win awards. The human plight will almost always be interesting and have the potential to win awards.

In part, that’s why Helene Elliott has been such a disaster as a columnist, her typed words just killing trees . She has no credibility, telling readers Sunday morning the “better the Chargers’ chances of qualifying for the playoffs” if they get a backup running back. She’s certainly no Charger expert, but it was her job to get something from Chargers’ training camp and so the traditional blah-blah story it is.

I’m more interested in why the Times ran a picture of a lot of soccer fans in the Rose Bowl on its first page and there doesn’t appear to be any women in the picture. I always have that question when I watch a golf tournament and catch a glimpse of the gallery which is usually womenless. I guess spending time with Billie Jean King has made me conscious of that.

I’ve always thought the sports pages do not do enough to entertain female readers, and beginning there might be the start to survival or revival. “His Life Was On The Line” would undoubtedly be read by female readers in great numbers if someone told them newspapers weren’t dead and provided Ben’s story as an example.

Hello, Mom, do you know why your child’s bedroom door is closed?

We need more imagination from reporters, and the editors mired in the mundane. I have a friend in Frank Pace, and while he might dispute that, he puts out a podcast with Billy O’Connor, an ex-fireman with 9-11 history.

They don’t get paid anything, but the two old men are driven to be entertaining, calling their podcast: A Mick, a Mook and a Mic. The Mook is my so-called friend.

Each week they present an eclectic guest to deliver the entertaining goods. They are what a newspaper should be, refusing to be traditional but hellbent on making it worth someone’s time to listen.

They’ve had on the show the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer who took the dramatic Kent State protest picture, actress Joanna Kerns and the Commander of Apollo 15 as guests. They can be reached at, and I would urge you to email and tell them their email address is too long.

I admire talented communicators like this who refuse to surrender. If they were working as the editors of the newspaper, the newspaper might be prospering rather than losing subscribers. The newspaper needs an injection of pep.

Oddly, “Thomas Cole left UCLA football after a suicide attempt…he hopes his story helps others,” did just that.

Ben tweeted to tell me that Cole and his parents deserved the credit for allowing such access, but Ben doesn’t get that kind of access unless he builds a foundation of trust as a reporter. And works the story.

This morning he excelled as a reporter, thereby making the Sunday newspaper such a joy.

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