Monday, February 27, 2006

Otis Chandler, Former Head Of Times-Mirror, Dead At 78

It cannot be without strong emotion that we heard this morning of the death of Otis Chandler, who as head of Times-Mirror and publisher of the Los Angeles Times built the paper into one of the nation's strongest. He was 78.

His greatest achievement was to craft such a strong, independent newspaper on the West Coast after years of partisan mediocrity.

The tragedy was that due largely to rivalries within the Chandler family, he could not maintain control of the paper. It gradually slipped from his grasp and fell finally into the wrong hands, the lackluster Tribune Co. of Chicago.

Los Angeles being a great city and California remaining the most populous and prosperous state, this is hopefully not a situation that will last. We can still look forward, when the paper is sold once again, for it to recover the greatness that Chandler gave it.

The essence of Chandler's success was that he realized the L.A. Times had to have independent political and foreign coverage, with strong bureaus in Washington, other American and foreign cities, in order to make its mark, and he was successful at giving the paper the wherewithal to accomplish this.

Like his distinguished, if partisan, father, mother, grandfather and great-grandfather, Chandler worked hard and with dedication to develop the Times as a quality product. He had the assistance particularly of two distinguished editors, Nick Williams and Bill Thomas.

No shrinking violet, Chandler also sought to become more politically respectable than his forebears. He fought, though not always effectively, such political scoundrels as Mayor Sam Yorty who would have held the city back, and, to his credit, he believed in a tolerant policy that allowed all the city's vibrant ethnic groups to prosper in potential equality.

Chandler was a major figure, as were his forebears, in building Los Angeles as one of the major cities of the nation and the world.

Later, when family division and occasional personal mistakes cast a shadow on some of his accomplishments and caused trouble for the paper, with the eventual accession of Mark Willes as CEO of Times-Mirror, it was to Chandler's great credit that he came back out of the shadows to try to keep the Times on an even keel.

For this reason, he commanded the love and respect of much of the Times' staff, even though he had lost the authority that would have permitted him to become leader of the recovery.

It was a further tragedy in Chandler's life that his son, Norman, who might in time have developed into a great publisher, fell to a fatal brain tumor, had to leave work and finally succumbed a few years ago at the age of only 49. The situation at the paper might have developed differently had Norman remained healthy.

Still, Chandler remained a formidable personality. It is for his aspirations and honest strivings for greatness that he will be fondly remembered.


Blogger Ed Padgett said...

It's a very sad day at the Los Angeles Times with the loss of our greatest publisher.

I still remember Otis walking through the pressroom and shaking everyone's hands, in spite of all the ink, he really cared about his employees.

In tribute to Mr. Chandler, the Los Angeles Times will publish a special section in his honor in tomorrow's newspaper.


2/27/2006 9:37 PM  
Anonymous David Crook, former LAT said...

Ken: I sent this note to Romenesko yesterday. Perhaps you'd like to share it with your readers. Best, DC

It's a sad day. Otis Chandler was a great man.

I wish to correct a comment from the current editor of the LA Times, as it appears in today's online obit at….

"Otis Chandler will go down as one of the most important figures in newspaper history," said Dean Baquet, editor of The Times. "He built a newspaper that was as great as the city it covers. He set his sights on a goal -- making The Times one of the two or three great American papers -- and he pulled it off."

Those of us who were fortunate to work at The Times during the days of Mr. Chandler and Tom Johnson know there was absolutely no notion that settling to be "one of the two or three great American newspapers" was OK. We aimed to be and were expected to be the BEST newspaper in the world. Mr. Chandler, in his oft-quoted note bringing Mr. Johnson on board, made it clear that he expected the LA Times to be as good as the New York Times and, ultimately, to knock it off its pedestal. For The Times to sit at the top of journalism's ladder was Mr. Chandler's personal goal that became a corporate goal that was articulated to every member of the paper's staff.

It was made clear to every reporter and editor, from the day you walked into the building, that you were best, working for the best. There was no equivocation.

Indeed, from my perspective, one of the main problems affecting the paper in the post Chandler-Johnson years was the compromise of that sense of excellence. As other managers took over, it became less a personal goal, then less a corporate goal. Today, apparently, it is OK to be among the better. To be less than the best.

That was never the case when Mr. Chandler was there.

David Crook
The Wall Street Journal Sunday

2/28/2006 5:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too. being a long time pressroom employee have memories of a man who could be seen walking through the old pressroom at Second and Spring in a white shirt and tie shaking hands with the pressmen and thanking them for doing a good job. His concern for the well-being of his employees was what made him a highly respected publisher. No other publisher since has shown that kind of concern for the employees. Many of us were hoping that "uncle Otis" would gain control and "take back the times" (with respects to Ken Reich). He will be missed.

2/28/2006 6:53 AM  

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