Sunday, October 09, 2005

In Talk at L.A. Times Pressmen Dinner, I Argue Local Ownership

It was a privilege for me to speak to the mainly retired and a few active Los Angeles Times pressmen last night (Saturday) at Taix's restaurant in Silver Lake about the need for an ownership change back to local control at the L.A. Times.

The audience seemed receptive, and there were questions about the old days, what happened to Chandler family ownership of the paper, and even the days when the Times was a Republican paper.

You can well imagine that if I could speak every night on the subject of ownership, I would, because if there is anything the Auletta and other recent articles on the Times-Tribune rift have shown is that it's not going away.

We simply cannot count on the Tribune executives, Dennis FitzSimons and Scott Smith, to be fair to the Times in the allocation of resources. Indeed, there is every prospect that the Times will not continue as a great paper under Tribune control. The assurances reportedly won by Dean Baquet, the new editor, from Tribune executives at a private meeting before John Carroll resigned, will not be lasting ones. Certainly, the great foreign staff of the paper will not be kept intact, despite the temporary agreement to do so.

I want to thank the pressman who set this dinner up. I was able to speak at length and answer questions before ducking into the bar at Taix and seeing the end of the Cal-UCLA football game at the Rose Bowl, won by UCLA, 47-40.

What was Otis Chandler doing now, and what does he think presently of how the paper is doing, was one subject of the questions, and one I could not answer any later than before the sale to the Tribune, when Otis' gallant anti-Mark Willes letter to the staff was read in the City Room by Bill Boyarsky.

But it was clear there was a lot of nostalgia for the old days among the pressmen. One outspoken complaint was that copies of the paper that would have been sent to wastage before the Tribune came on board, are now being sent out with defects.

I responded that the Chandlers were gone, and if the paper is to have a great future under its new editor, Baquet, a new, more responsive and responsible ownership would be necessary. This is not to say that the new publisher, Jeff Johnson, might not mean to do well, but after all, like John Puerner, he is beholden to the Tribune.

About 30 pressmen attended the dinner.


Anonymous Edward Douglas Padgett said...

Ken, It was such a pleasure meeting the man behind the blog, I;m sure many others would have enjoy hearing you speak as well as meeting you in person.

Sometimes the Internet makes us all appear to be non-persons, yet we are all real in person.

We will be at Taix again in March 2006, and hope you will stop in for dinner, the men loved hearing you speak.

Thanks again,
Ed Padgett

10/09/2005 9:16 PM  
Anonymous John Stodder said...


For the goal of local ownership to be met, it seems to me there are two options:

1) Find a zillionaire who is willing to take it on for the love of it, whether or not it is immediately profitable. The downside of this option is, what if the zillionaire has an agenda? How could a paper owned by, say, Eli Broad, or Dick Riordan, or Steve Bing, credibly cover the activities of themselves and their pet causes?

2) Create a locally-based foundation to own the paper. This is the route that two name-brand journalistic institutions, Harper's and Ms., took when the potential for profits dried up. It would have the advantage of being an enterprise that many of the city's wealthy could assist, without any one of them becoming the grand poobah, and the board could be comprised of a balanced mix of esteemed local journalistic figures and local public spirited individuals, who together would be responsible for the Times becoming a balanced, high-quality product, as well as remaining financially viable. Under this scenario, you'd still sell ads and push for subscribers, but you'd create a third revenue stream of tax-deductible charitable donations.

Since I haven't heard you speak, I don't know if you're already touting this option, but I thought I'd fling it out there for your consideration.

10/11/2005 10:50 AM  

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