In 2009, veteran journalist, editor and California State University, Northridge alumnus Steve Loeper ’69 (Journalism) took on a new assignment after working for a quarter of a century with the Associated Press.
The AP saw tremendous growth potential in entertainment news and tapped Loeper, the experienced leader who coordinated the coverage of some of the city’s biggest stories of the past three decades — the 1984 Summer Olympics, the 1992 LA riots, the Northridge earthquake, and O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson sagas — to be its West Coast entertainment editor.
Loeper, who had been a news editor, said his interest in the entertainment industry and desire for a new challenge made it an easy choice for him to switch gears.
And what a challenge he got.
One of the most respected newsmen in Los Angeles — evidenced by the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists recognizing him as one of its Distinguished Journalist honorees for 2015 — is now six years into an intriguing daily battle. The AP, one of the world’s most established and respected news organizations, has serious competition from digital media upstarts who take a no-holds-barred approach to reporting entertainment news.
The competition, the 69-year-old admitted, has impacted the way he — and the AP, for that matter — have operated. However, Loeper and the organization continue to evolve while maintaining longstanding journalism standards.
“I know [AP] has its image, and we like that image because it represents integrity and fairness — qualities you don’t see a lot of in online journalism today in the entertainment field,” Loeper said. “But we are also incredibly committed to finding new ways to tell a story. And we’re moving rapidly toward more and more video and more and more interactive presentations of stories. Yes, we do longform and little print items on celebs, but we’re changing.”
The way people consume entertainment news, and news in general, has changed dramatically since the turn of the century, and the number of news outlets has grown immensely. Because of that and the amount of competition out there, consumer and media standards have changed, Loeper said.
“The digital audiences these days aren’t as discriminating as far as source,” Loeper said. “They’re not paying for [their news]. Most of it is through social media. It’s handed from one friend to the other and, in the process, getting mangled. And then you have the celebrity sites that jump in with equally as mangled and inaccurate reports. Somewhere in there, we try to come along with the real deal — buttoned down and attributed and fact-checked, which takes time and money. So, how do we establish recognition about what we’re delivering as the real deal, as opposed to things you can’t trust? It’s tough.”
This is how Loeper tries to compete with the TMZs of this world that try to get the story out first:
“I spend a lot of time in the entertainment realm going to publicists and these people [who] will plant their big celeb announcements or their big notices — the celebrity news that gets all the clicks — and try to convince them [they will] get all the reach [because we’re the AP],” Loeper said. “If they really want to get the right message out and stop the gossip mill, put all that aside and put out exactly what happened or something with dignity, they should come to us.”
Another shift in the media is how the entertainment genre has grown. Loeper and the AP acknowledge the reality TV stars and Internet stars of today, simply because they draw attention and they fit best in the entertainment category.
“It’s an interesting time. The lines are blurred in entertainment. What is entertainment news?” Loeper said. “If you’re going to work in it, you have to break down any notions of what entertainment is. It now runs the gamut with the Kardashian shows, beauty pageants, the color and everything that surrounds the British royalty. Because of social media and the changing digital media landscape, all that is getting eyeballs. And it’s fun. That all goes into the entertainment bucket, because there really isn’t another place. Entertainment becomes a catchall.
“I’ve had to readjust my thinking,” he continued. “But it’s what the public is interested in. And it’s media and it’s pop culture and it’s trending. There are values that define the new entertainment.”
It’s still his goal and the AP’s goal to maintain standards that have helped define them through the years. Boiling it down, it isn’t about being first, it’s about being reliable, thorough and accurate. Those three qualities have made the AP one of the most stable forces in the media.
It was AP’s stability that appealed to Loeper early in his career. He got into journalism while he was a student at San Fernando Valley State College, and he later worked as news director for campus radio station KEDC, now KCSN.
“One of the great values of Cal State Northridge, Valley State at the time, is we’d have working people go into the classroom and they’d bring that energy and excitement to the classroom,” Loeper said. “I had a professor who would come in from the KNBC newsroom and talk about the day, and how they put a show together — some of the real interesting challenges they face. I got the bug after that.”
From 1969-73, Loeper worked for KNXT (now KCBS) Channel 2 in Los Angeles. Then, he went for an opening at the AP.
Since 1973, Loeper has been a general assignment reporter, broadcast editor, desk supervisor, news editor, administrative news editor and, since 2009, West Coast entertainment editor.
With all those jobs and nearly a half-century working in the media, he’s had to evolve as a journalist — especially covering an industry that keeps moving and shifting. Along the way, Loeper has kept up. And he plans to keep going.
“I don’t see myself doing anything else,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I might not try some other aspects of journalism and give myself new experiences. When you work at a job 12 hours a day and really never have a day off, it becomes your whole life. It becomes who you are. … It’s probably the reason I’ve survived in this business this long, because I’ve given it this level of attention and dedication.”