Tuesday, November 15, 2005

L.A. Times To Drop "Outdoors," One Of Many Tribune Cutbacks

Rather than admitting it is a dumb outfit of greasy Midwesterners who cannot do the job, the Tribune Co. of Chicago, an enemy of all Californians, has begun a new round of cost-cutting at the L.A. Times. Unless we get rid of this bunch of losers, the whole newspaper may eventually go under.

The latest cutback is the announcement by editor Dean Baquet that the "Outdoors" section is going to be dropped in December.

"I made the decision that instead of nibbling around the edges of the paper, it made more sense to make one thing go away," Baquet explained. "Something had to go. "It was a question of what." He did not say whether the staff of 10 would be laid off. In light of Associate Editor John Montorio's bombastic statements at a staff meeting, maybe he will be laid off. This would be the proper thing to do, let the captain go down with the ship.

Jim Rainey, the media writer, who seldom is very truthful about the continuing bad news for the company, did not write this latest announcement. Maybe, he too, is sailing off into the sunset.

But it is likely Baquet is, more or less, following orders. The Tribune executives recently paid a visit to Los Angeles, and the cutbacks and layoffs to come are their ultimate responsibility. It is now beginning to look that when John Carroll quit, Baquet would have been wise, for his own reputation, to leave too.

Outdoors, only two years old, was never much of a success. There are reports that some of the pages lost here may be restored to the Sports section, which would be a good idea. But for the most part, I'm afraid it is going to be downhill from here.

Baquet is trying to stay ahead of the curve, and is better at outside PR than the new editorial page editor, Andres Martinez.

Martinez, in a long "note to our readers," this morning on the Op-Ed Page says that Bob Scheer "will not appear" today. But he does not say why. Last week, it was announced that Scheer and editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez were being dropped at the end of the year.

But Scheer is not there today, and the probability is that he wrote something Martinez and publisher Jeff Johnson couldn't stomach. Instead, today, Joel Stein makes the mnove from the sickly Current to the Op-Ed Page with an insipid little column suggesting, in the very first sentence, "You weren't one of those suckers who voted last week, were you?"

Stein is an utter fool, who didn't belong in Time magazine, doesn't belong with the L.A. Times, shouldn't be writing anywhere. If he's representative of the new lineup on the Op-Ed Page, God Help Us! Because the electorate in last week's election said so decisively no to the policies of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. Dianne Feinstein was correct when she called it one of the most important elections in modern California history, and thus well worth voting in.

But the main point is that Martinez is disgracing himself.

As those who read this blog know, I'm not normally an admirer of Bob Scheer, whose attitude toward American policy is not mine. But Scheer tells only the truth in his remarks to outsiders about the Times under the Tribune:

"The (new) publisher is a wise guy accountant, a bean counter from Chicago," he told Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation magazine. "These guys come in from Chicago. They don't know the community, and buying the L.A. Times might be illegal...The paper is in decline."

When Scheer says that buying the Times might have been illegal, he is taking note of the federal rule that a media company shouldn't own a paper and a television station in the same city at the same time, and the Tribune is going to have to seek a waiver or sell either the Times or Channel 5.

But another aspect of the legality question is the provision in the Harry Chandler will that the Times couldn't be sold until the last of Otis Chandler's generations had died. Sleazy lawyers thought they had gotten around this provision, but had any member of the Chandler family sued to prevent the sale, they might have prevailed in court. We may never know.

Since Scheer, and I pay tribute to him for this, isn't leaving quietly, it seems as if Martinez and Johnson may not be running any more of his columns, not waiting until the end of the year to do away with him.

Martinez isn't much of an editor, and one small proof of this is the annoying headlines he is allowing at the beginning of each day's Letter's Column. It is a well known practice of journalism that headlines are supposed to be related to the lead of the story, or in this case letters. But in the Times letter column these days the headline refers not to the first letters, but something someone has written way down in the column of letters. It is confusing and annoying.

It's a small annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless. The editorial pages, purged of half their staff during the summer by the unmourned Michael Kinsley, now has slipped from Kinsley to Martinez. It is not much of a gain.

I'm afraid we're only going to get bad news from the Times day by day.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back when we were working together, one of the things that distinguished your column was its reporting. Your comments about John Montorio in this item not only are mean-spirited and unfair, but also inaccurate. At the Outdoors staff meeting, John said hardly a dozen words and none were "bombastic" a descripton with which I know you're familiar. So, as I used to say when I was your editor, what's your source? If you don't have one, apologies are owed.

11/17/2005 10:23 AM  

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