Tuesday, December 06, 2005

San Fernando Valley Plant Closed; Nancy Cleeland's Labor Beat Dropped

Bad news continues to emerge about the assault of the Tribune Co. in Chicago on the Los Angeles Times, and, by extension, Los Angeles itself.

The latest is that the San Fernando Valley plant, the Chatsworth facility, is being closed and the property, in Chandler family hands since 1909, will be sold. Also, we hear that Nancy Cleeland, who shared in a Pulitzer Prize for the series about Wal-Mart, no longer has her labor beat, and the Times will not have a replacement soon, according to Russ Stanton, the section editor. In short, the Times, going back to the anti-labor positions of years ago, will not have a labor beat.

We should have known something like this would happen when the editorial pages, under the thumb of the Chicago shill, the new publisher, Jeff Johnson, endorsed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Proposition 75, to weaken the influence of the public employee unions. The electorate defeated that and other Schwarzenegger proposals in the Special election Nov. 8.

Let's not be fooled. These moves are always disclosed by upbeat memos to the staff, but the effect is always the same: Vital parts of the paper are being closed and/or sold off. Vital people, some of whom won Pulitzer Prizes, are either being laid off, as Bill Stall was in Sacramento, or their beats are being dispensed with, as was Nancy Cleeland's.

Nancy Cleeland's labor beat is no longer existing, and Stanton says there are other things to cover. For shame! Harry Bernstein, now an old man, still lives, but the fairness to labor he stood for at the Los Angeles Times has now vanished. The labor beat was among the signs, when Otis Chandler became publisher, that the Times was going to become a fair and independent newspaper.

And why is the new editor, Dean Baquet, going along with this? Maybe, he's not as sound a newspaperman as he is often credited with being. Or maybe, he is already being marginalized by the publisher.

We are indebted for noticing about and publicizing the loss of the labor beat to a comparatively new blogger, Tim McGarry, who is in private life a public relations man. In his blog, Angels and Vagabonds, he picked up and reported on the article, "The End of News," by Michael Massing in the Dec. 15 issue of the New York Review of Books.

Massing wrote, specifically:

"This summer, Nancy Cleeland, after more than six years as the long labor reporter at the Los Angeles Times, left her beat. She made the move "out of frustration," she told me. Her editors "really didn't want to have labor stories. They were always looking at labor from a management and business perspective--'how do we deal with these guys?' In 2003, Cleeland was one of several reporters on a three-part series about Wal-Mart's labor practices that won the Times a Pulitzer Prize. That, she had hoped, would convince her editors of the value of covering labor, but in the end it didn't, she says. They don't consider themselves hostile to working class concerns, but they're all making too much money to relate to the problems that working class people are facing," observed Cleeland, who is now writing about high school dropouts. Despite her strong urging, the paper has yet to name anyone to replace her."

As, I say, for shame. I wrote favorably not long ago about Stanton's shepherding of the Business section. Obviously, I missed something. Doing away with labor reporting in a Business section is an absolutely disagraceful act, for which he and Baquet must bear responsibility for accepting, even though it may have been at the publisher's orders.

We'll see if Tim Ruttin, the media columnist, writes about it, or whether he ignores it and goes after the U.S. military's war effort once again. The only Times columnists to even indirectly take on the Tribune Co. assault on the quality of the Times have been Al Martinez and Michael Hiltzik, honor to them.

The really ironic thing is that Cleeland wasn't even a particularly strong labor reporter. Her coverage of the long grocery strike as it appeared in the paper after being edited, I felt at the time, was more pro-management than pro-labor. For the record, Cleeland insisted to me, she was trying.

As for the closing of the Chatsworth plant, it was accompanied by company statements insisting the Times had invested in other new print facilities, such as in Irwindale, but confessing that since the circulation of the paper has gone down, the capacity of Chatsworth was no longer needed.

Bushwa! What the closure means is that the Tribune has given up on any hope of being able to restore Times circulation to the million-plus daily level.

Publisher Johnson, in his own memo, now puts total buyouts and layoffs at the Times at 300. Earlier, he had said editorial reductions in employment would amount to 85 and not given a figure for other divisions of the company.

In his memo, Johnson also claims that daily circulation is back up 38,000 and Sunday circulation 45,000, although he gives no total numbers for where circulation is today, and I suggest we wait for the official circulation numbers next March and September. Johnson has been inaccurate before about how circulation was doing.

Quite a record, my friends. Bill Stall is laid off and the other two Pulitzer Prize winners in the editorial pages are transferred. Nancy Cleeland is transferred.

It really shouldn't be a surprise. After all, we already know the Tribune executives hated the 13 Pulitzers the Times won under editor John Carroll. Now, out of jealousy and spite, they are taking steps to undo those prizes.

Let me repeat myself: For shame!

And I wonder if this is just the first of the property sales. Times-Mirror owned a lot of property in Southern California. And now, are the proceeds from sales of that going off to enrich Chicagoans?

We're just beginning to appreciate what these people are really like.

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