Wednesday, June 29, 2005

L.A. Times Suburban Sections Were Once Too Big, But Now Are Smaller Than Needed

Written from Fort Nelson, B.C., on the Alaska Highway--

They charge $2 a copy at the hotel desk here for the Edmonton Journal. In Vancouver, I found the New York Times was for sale in the hotel at $2.34 daily and $9.35 Sunday. Of course, this was in Canadian currency, now worth about 80% of American, but still it seems a lot of money. Yet it was selling out every day.

A paper as widely distributed as the New York Times is going to survive no matter what happens with the Internet. But the L.A. Times has lost circulation, doesn't make much of an attempt at wider distribution anymore, and, it's obvious, has cut way back on the suburban sections that used to buttress the paper's circulation in the Southland metro areas.

On June 12, the LAT editorial pages carried a piece by Gustavo Arellano lamenting cutbacks in the Times' Orange County edition, and I have to say he is right. Under Tribune ownership and appointed editors who don't appreciate Southern California, the paper has virtually given up on comprehensive suburban coverage, even in the Valley and Orange County, where it used to have major sections.

There were times a few years back when I felt the Chandler-owned Times had put too many resources into the suburban sections and often the tail was wagging the dog, even altering Page 1 of the A section on many days. It was as if there were several Los Angeles Times, not just one.

But these days, everything is folded into a California section, and as Arellano wrote, there are often no more than three stories of Orange County news in what is still called an Orange County Edition. That's not enough. It amounts to a scam. No wonder the Register, which is not a very good paper, has opened up such a wide circulation gap over the Times.

Different managers at different times are going to reach different conclusions on the value of suburban news. But the judgment of the Tribune Co. is all wrong. You can't be successful in Southern California with as little of it as the Times has today.

It's bound to continue the downward spiral of Times fortunes, and not until local ownership is restored will things start going right again. Then those big editorial quarters once opened up in Costa Mesa and Canoga Park will be humming again, and the Times will be growing. We can have a big party and banish the Tribune nightmare.


Anonymous Kona3 said...

You're a fool if you think the paper is going downhill merely because its owners are based in Chicago. Face it, most of the Times' terrain is not ideal for a quality product, one that depends on well-educated people. And since many people here either share your political beliefs or are even more naively liberal than you, I'd be surprised if current trends of downward mobility change in the immediate or even distant future.

After all, such trends haven't moved an inch in many of the native countries where growing numbers of LA residents hark from, and they probably won't improve any time soon in those residents' newly adopted hometown either.

7/02/2005 7:24 PM  

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