Thursday, December 23, 2004

L.A. Times Business Section Should Be Improved

When I was in Buenos Aires last January, I went to a number of restaurants and quickly concluded that if the Argentine governmental leadership was as skillful as the country's cooks, it would be the best governed country in the world. Argentine beef is, of course, famous, but it was the salads that really impressed me: they are the best anywhere, and the dressings are fabulous.

It can also be said that if The Los Angeles Times Business section had improved as much as its Food section in the last couple of years, The Times would be a far better paper than it is.

Business continues to be a comparatively weak section under the new leadership of Rick Wartzman. It is soft on big business. Its coverage of energy, the public utilities, labor and management issues and consumer issues leaves a lot to be desired. It fails to handle any story with political ramifications effectively. Michael Hiltzik's column is an exception to all these observations. He is excellent. Kathy Kristof also has her moments. Most of the rest of the section is far weaker than the news sections of the paper. The best of The Times right now is foreign coverage. Washington and local are good. Business should be a priority for improvement.

One problem is that the best business stories, such as the ones this week on the troubles surrounding the nation's drug industry, run in Section A. We make fun of the New York Times for jumping stories off A1 into Business, on grounds it is inconvenient for the readers to leaf from one section to another. But the effect of the NYT policy is to allow business stories that run on Page One to jump into Business Day, thus strengthening that section on an almost daily basis.

I don't want to be too hard on Wartzman. Business had its weaknesses throughout the 39 years I was at the paper, and it takes a lot of effort to change a culture.

The culture of the Business section was reflected, I felt, in its failure to do so much as one serious story on one of the biggest business stories in Los Angeles in the 1980s: How Peter Ueberroth and Harry Usher were running the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee in the period leading up to 1984, how they were treating the commercial sponsors, their hardnosed budget policies and and their real financial outlook.

But frequently Business drops the ball on other big stories. Times coverage of the energy crisis, of the recent grocery strike, of the workers' comp crisis in the state have all been deficient. Its coverage of the markets is a little better, but not as critical as it should be.

Both the oil industry and the airlines, covered terrifically in the New York Times, fail to get sufficient attention or even average coverage in The Los Angeles Times. Joe Sharkey's consumer-oriented airline column and other coverage has no competition in the LAT.

It's time to change this culture. How long, for instance, is Business going to allow Steve Lopez to take home all The Times marbles in covering Worker's Comp?


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5 Comments:

Blogger Matt Weinstock said...

Ummm....

The TIMES reduction of daily stock information was one of the factors that led me to terminate them. This happened a few years ago.

MW

12/23/2004 3:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken:

And what of the LATimes business section's feeble coverage of agriculture in an important farm state? When was the last time you saw a story in the LAT about expectations for the coming cotton crop? Or the prospects for lettuce? As far as I know, the LAT has never had a reporter assigned full-time to agriculture.
-- Fran Kent

12/23/2004 3:30 PM  
Blogger jchess said...

The L.A. Business Section? I stopped taking that portion of the paper seriously when they made a sweetheart deal with the Democratic Party with regards to the STAPLES Convention Center and 'forgot' to disclose this cozy arrangement.

At the moment the only part of The L.A. Times I give serious consideration to is the literary section, and that consideration decreases weekly.

12/24/2004 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The business section is horrible. Sorry, I read that piece 10 days ago in the FT'S.

1/25/2005 8:52 AM  
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