Friday, May 19, 2006

Oust Joe Hutchinson, His Redesign Has Been Bad For LAT

A bad design decision can stick with a publication for a long time. It was under Shelby Coffey that the L.A. Times unwisely went to a tabloid every Thursday in the Calendar section. Despite the fact, this makes Calendar less readable on Thursdays than on any other day, no one will own up to this being a bad decision, and going back to the standard Calendar format seven days a week

The Saturday Evening Post never recovered from a bad redesign. It vanished a short time later.

The problem with design at the L.A. Times recently has been the work of Joseph Hutchinson, the paper's "creative director." His extra summary page is a waste of space and the shoving of foreign news back to the end of section A has materially weakened the paper's daily presentation and, I believe, ultimately will threaten the status of the foreign bureaus.

Hutchinson needs to be sent back to Chicago and replaced with someone more in tune with the readers.

We see on every hand that decisions by Chicago toadies have weakened the paper. Just this morning, quotes emerge from former Sports Editor Bill Dwyre about the deleterious effects of cutting back the Sports section.

But Sports still does a good job of covering stories like the NBA playoffs. The diminishing of the role of foreign news in the paper, at a time when the U.S. is fighting two wars in the MIddle East, is more serious.

Coverage of certain important countries is sinking to the vanishing point. Just this week, an Islamic extremist murdered one judge and wounded several others in Turkey, because he didn't like a court decision keeping the curbs on religious fanaticism in the country in the matter of women's head scarfs. It rated only a brief in the Times. Since Douglas Frantz came home from Istanbul, Times coverage of that country, backsliding from the secular Ataturk period, has been very much diminished. Yet Turkey is worthy of frequent coverage. It is a vital part of the Mideast equation, with material effect on what happens in Iraq and on Islamic thinking worldwide.

The LAT has no fulltime correspondent in Afghanistan. The New York Times does, and the war there is the subject of more frequent reports in that newspaper.

It is true the L.A. Times has in recent weeks had some outstanding investigative stories, such as the ones on Kaiser Permanente and polygamists. But these could have gone forward with the same space and still kept Page A3 for news and foreign news at the beginning of Section A.

It is time to reevaluate changes encouraged by Hutchinson, and, I believe, to send him back East, where all dilettantes belong.

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