Saturday, December 03, 2005

Cuts In LAT Foreign Coverage Under Tribune Assault Have So Far Been Limited

In the assault by the Tribune Co. against the staff and quality of the Los Angeles Times, the cuts to the Times' admirable foreign coverage have so far been fairly limited.

My understanding, which may not be complete, is that the Rio bureau, for now, is being closed. But that has happened periodically before. Also, some bureau assistants have been dismissed, including the one in Jerusalem.

In Washington, D.C., the veteran foreign and diplomatic correspondent, Tyler Marshall, is taking the buyout.

But otherwise, for now, and "for now" may be the operative term, Times editors have been fairly successful in protecting this most valuable Times asset.

It should go without saying that saving both the Times' foreign and national bureaus is essential, if the Times is to command a decent price in a sale, and have a good chance of eventually undoing the damage the Tribune ownership has done. One new ownership scenario would be for Google or Yahoo to buy the Times and use its great foreign and national staff as a resource in providing search information.

Especially now, when the country is at war, under attack by terrorists, not to mention jealous foreign powers, at many points around the world, it is important to Times readers to have the best foreign coverage they can get, and the new editor, Dean Baquet, certainly seems conscious of this.

Just yesterday, there was one of those stories that most newspapers are incapable of producing for their readers, because they simply don't have the reporters stationed in key places around the world with the kind of resources and talents that are needed.

This one came from Moscow and was by the Times' great Pulitzer Prize winning Russian correspondent, Kim Murphy. It told how nascent fascists are active in the Moscow city elections which are to be held this weekend, how they are using the menace from Muslim terrorists to generate a backlash that could easily spin Russia into an ever more violent backlash. It was an alarming story, carefully documented, and it came from a correspondent who has proven her value time and again.

It's vitally important that the Times protect Murphy and her colleagues. Many of them could go to the New York Times and other publications easily, if the Tribune executives persist in their present attitude.

The newspaper that Otis Chandler, Nick Williams, Bill Thomas and so many others built is in real jeopardy. The Washington bureau is losing its own office suites, and being forced to move in with Washington offices of other Tribune papers, even with the inferior Chicago Tribune staff. On every side, the squalid FitzSimmones and Smiths are trying to bring the Times down to the Tribune level, as they have already done with the editorial pages. It's very sad, but resistance is essential.

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