Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bad News From both FitzSimons And The New York Times

Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimon's speech yesterday in New York at the Mid-year Media Review Conference contained strong hints of very bad news for the future of the Los Angeles Times, including a threat to the autonomy of its foreign and national bureaus.

Both Tom Mulligan's story in the L.A. Times this morning, and a story by Jon Fine put out by Businessweek quote FitzSimons as saying that $200 million in further cutbacks he envisions if his stock buyback program goes through will include sharing of national and foreign news content between Tribune Company-owned newspapers and television stations.

This ominous statement was backed up by Donald Grenesko, Tribune's senior vice president of finance and administration, who was also present at the New York conference. He is quoted by BusinessWeek as saying in the matter of newsroom cutbacks that one way the company would achieve its goals would be to centralize some "content" across its newspapers, especially with regard to foreign and national news. He said this would include "staff reductions through attrition and position eliminations."

Given Tribune Company's shabby treatment of the L.A. Times since it purchased the paper in 2000, any amalgamation of news content between Tribune papers would, I think, very likely mean the closure of some Times foreign and possibly national bureaus and their subordination, in any event, to a lower common denominator of assignments probably coordinated out of Chicago, a less talented and vibrant city than Los Angeles.

Already, with the foolish inclusion of another summary page in the Times' A section, Page 3, foreign news content in the paper has been shoved back to the end of the A section. This now looks like a means of smoothing the way to a diminution of the foreign news presentation.

At a time of war and crisis developments in the Middle East and East Asia, when foreign news should have a certain priority, the corporate interests in Chicago are, in short, getting set to deliver a new body blow to the quality of the L.A. Times.

FitzSimons, in his New York speech, did open the way to the sale by Tribune of
"publishing assets," meaning newspapers, in addition to television stations. {The faltering company has already sold its TV stations in Atlanta and Albany, N.Y). But BusinessWeek said the implication was that smaller Tribune papers located in Allentown, Pa. and Hampton Roads, Va., might be put up for sale, while the company would keep its more prominent papers.

The revolt of Chandler family members of the Tribune Board of Trustees could yet doom the buyback plan, (though FitzSimons yesterday said it would go forward), and force a breakup of the company.

But if FitzSimons and his coterie of Chicago businessmen on the Tribune board have their way, it seems likely from his and Grenesko's comments yesterday, the L.A. Times is sure to suffer.

Meanwhile, for those who love newspapers, as I confess I do, there is further bad news this morning from the New York Times, which announces through a Business section story by Katharine Seelye that it plans to sell advertisements on the front page of its Business section beginning two weeks from now.

Also, the executive editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller, said the width of the paper may be shrunk to reduce costs. The L.A. Times has already done that.

Keller said he would prefer to make these changes rather than reduce the size of the reportorial staff. So, unlike FitzSimons at Tribune Co., he is at least trying to avoid further layoffs.

But reducing the size of the NYT, and putting ads in prominent places they have not been before is something we might have expected from Mark Willes, the former publisher at the L.A. Times, but not from the New York Times.

Keller replaced the talented Howell Raines, when Raines was dismissed by the weak-kneed publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., and things at the New York Times have gone slightly downhill from there. It's not as bad as what has happened at Tribune papers, but it is a depressing development.

Steve Lopez, in his L.A. Times column this morning, quotes developer Eli Broad here in Los Angeles as saying he would be interested in at least exploring a purchase of the L.A. Times, "if it became available."

He added that profits wouldn't be his main priority if he owned the Times, that public service and education would be. "If you bought it and were profit-oriented, you wouldn't have the same quality newspaper that the city deserves," Broad said. "You'd be pushing for bigger margins and cash flow, and how far would you cut before you hit the bone?"

At least, Lopez is showing the courage to write about the Times' present situation. He leads his column today, "The possibility of my newspaper being purchased by someone with no experience and no earthly idea what he's doing is quickly becoming rather appealing."

Now, I wonder, will the Times' media columnist, Tim Rutten, weigh in on this topic? So far, he hasn't shown Lopez's courage.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "talented" Howell Raines, as you call him in your latest entry, was loathed by many at The New York Times, but he was dismissed for failing to catch the fabrications of Jayson Blair. Thought you knew that would be a career ender for anybody in that position.

6/22/2006 7:08 AM  

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