Saturday, April 09, 2005

General Motors Will Strike Out In Trying To Stop L.A. Times Criticisms

General Motors, a poorly-run company which has been producing lousy products for a long time now and hurting America in the process, is trying to shut up the Los Angeles Times by stopping its advertising purchases at the paper.

In fact, GM will only hurt itself. Californians scarcely need be told that buying its products at present is a dumb thing to do. At a time when gasoline price records are broken every week, this is a company that is pushing SUVs and trails the Japanese car makers in producing hybrids that can reduce gasoline consumption. GM disregards this country's most important interests with its policies, including making cars that don't last as long as they should and don't get the gas mileage they should. As Dan Neil, the Pulitzer Prize-winning auto writer of the L.A. Times, said this week, it has fallen into a morass, and it needs to change leadership. But this is not really a new argument. It has been evident for some time.

If the L.A. Times responds to the advertising cutoff as it should, it will sell Toyota and other automobile and truck manufacturers more ads, allowing them to take advantage of the absence of GM from California's largest paper, and putting more pressure on the woebegone GM auto dealers of Southern California.

But what will the Times do, a friend asked me today. The Times unfortunately has been owned for the past five years by the Tribune Co., a poorly-run Midwestern corporation like General Motors that scares easily and could, conceivably, become even more nervous now.

Maybe Dennis FitzSimmons, the Tribune CEO, will make another flying trip out to the Burbank Airport to counsel a Times surrender.

But I hope not. This would only compound the Times circulation and morale problems. California readers will expect the Times to stand up to General Motors.

As I remarked in a recent blog, the biggest story these days, especially in California, is the price of gasoline. The unwillingness of American auto producers to make adjustments in their products to cope with this is a an issue of great importance too.

Change is coming, and those who do not live with it will die with it. General Motors has got to change for the good of the country and it is hard to do that without getting rid of inept leadership such as represented at GM by CEO Rick Wagoner and his sidekick Robert Lutz. They probably don't have the qualifications to run a tire dealership in Toledo, much less one of the world's biggest vehicle producers.

As for the Times, this is the price one is going to have to pay from time to time by having Pulitzer Prize winning writers on the staff, such as the paper has had in increasing numbers for several years. It won five Pulitzers last year and two more this week.

Winners of Pulitizer Prizes are apt to tell the truth. They certainly aren't going to abide with dummies like the General Motors Corp., without speaking up about them.

Already, of course, this morning, we have Morgan Stanley and the big Wall Street stock analysts ready to say how big a hit this is going to be to the Tribune Co. in terms of their profits per share. These are the folks that are running American investors down the rathole of losses we have been seeing in recent months. They are part of a business community that is proving itself unable to compete successfully in the world with the Chinese, the Indians and other countries that are on the economic march.

The Times, the Tribune Co., other representatives of the news media across the country, should gird up their loins and tell these businessmen to shape up and improve their products and their general performance, in other words to resume doing things the American way.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Ken, your comment about what the Times should do is right on.

But for me, I do not expect them to do what they should do. There are too many other things they should do that they don't do. One of them, getting rid of Michael Kinsley, the weak editor of the Editorial Pages, is one you have identified.

Another thing they should do is stop the "moral equivalency" reporting of terrorists in the Israeli - Palestinian conflict as "militants" or "freedom fighters".

They are neither. They are murderers of innocent, non-combatant men, women and children, and should be called just that, "murderers", or "suicide-murderers".

If they are terrorists and murderers in other places, why not Israel?

The LA Times has gone downhill at an increasing rate. John Carroll is not without blame. The fish stinks from the head first.

The Chicago Tribune should be ashamed of itself, and so should Carroll, but I fully expect you to defend Carroll, even though I know you cannot possibly agree with his policies on reporting in Israel/Palestine.

4/09/2005 12:03 PM  
Anonymous Dennis Mosher said...

This seems like a case in which there are no heroes, and everybody loses.

Neil made some valid points about GM and its products, but he went way overboard. What was ostensibly a car review turned into a mean-spirited rant against the company’s top management, calling for heads to roll.

I’m regularly aggravated by the liberal slant in the LA Times’ news columns. But anyone who applauds GM’s tactic should ask themselves if they would feel the same way if the company did the same thing to a publication whose editorial leanings were more to their liking.

I've sold advertising for the Times and other LA area newspapers. Advertisers know the rules going in. Newspapers have movie reviewers, restaurant reviewers, book reviewers, music reviewers, etc. You are paying for ad space, nothing more. Guaranteed positive reviews in the paper are not part of the deal.

What if McDonald’s or Pizza Hut pulled their ads because they’re fed up with all those articles about the obesity epidemic and dangers of high-fat foods?

If people bought based on newspaper opinion columns, both GM and McDonald’s would have gone out of business long ago. Walmart would be struggling to survive.

Fact is, people buy what they like. Most companies are smart enough to know this. GM is not. Could this be why the company is floundering?

On the other hand, maybe Times writers could consider losing that arrogant swagger, that attitude, "I'm from the Times; I can say anything I want."

Words matter, and even corporate tycoons have feelings.

4/09/2005 4:28 PM  
Blogger Big B said...

Very astute posting about two monolithic companies. The Times is so politically correct, it should be interesting to see if they can behave like capitalists.

I am going to read your blog regularly. Picked it up off of Dodger Thoughts.

4/09/2005 7:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The executives of GM are doing to that company what Michael Eisner has done to the Disney Company, as exemplified by that corporation's ham-handed second theme park built a few years ago in Orange County.

I sure hope the Tribune Co. doesn't follow in the footsteps of GM and Eisner, and run the Tribune's premium name brand of "Los Angeles Times" into the ground.

4/11/2005 2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

GM is a business and they have a right to make decisions in their own best interests.

The west coast of this country has a bias towards imports therefore (and rightly so) opinions will be biased against domestic manufacturers.

To characterize the largest car company on the planet as "poorly run" is a misnomer without analysis. Factors such as union labor agreements, design, and the weak dollar should be taken into account.

Fair or not but if the editor in question could fairly evaluate the auto industry instead of conveniently overlooking the crimes of the imports. Last time I checked Toyota puts big V8s in their "Full-Size" trucks, SUVs, and Lexus Luxury sedans (LS430 and GS430). These do not have the gas saving MDS technology used in the American Chrysler 300C. Isn't Honda building SUVs and introducing a pick-up? Doesn't Nissan have a US built full-size truck and SUV? Funny that never got mentioned.

4/13/2005 8:43 AM  
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