Saturday, July 08, 2006

Fortune Magazine Article Suggests L.A. Times Be Sold

The article in Fortune magazine on the Tribune Co. this week gives Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons every chance to whitewash his own egregious mismanagement of the company, and go after the Chandler family members of Tribune's board of directors, and the writer, Devin Leonard, sounds like a typical Easterner with little respect for California.

But Leonard finally comes to this conclusion:

"Here's a better idea. Tribune should sell the under performing Los Angeles Times. Publicly-traded newspaper companies might not touch it. But private buyers will pay a high price...The sale could raise $1 billion for Tribune and would stabilize its earnings."

The L.A. Times is actually under performing only by the greedy Wall Street standards that so impress Fortune magazine. The Times makes a lot of money, and the paper represents a good investment for more publicly-spirited entrepreneurs.

With all this continued talk, there is still a good chance the Babbitt-like Tribune Co. is in play. Meanwhile, Fitzsimons continues to play fast and loose with the quality of his newspapers. Just this week, he ordered the Baltimore Sun and Newsday, two other former Times-Mirror newspapers, to close all their foreign bureaus. Those newspapers have taken even more of a series of severe hits than the Times.

Meanwhile, the blood bath this week at the Santa Barbara NewS-Press, with the resignation of the editor, the managing editor, four other editors and a columnist, in protest against alleged violations of journalistic ethics by owner Wendy McCaw, led L.A. Observed owner Kevin Roderick to suggest that selling a newspaper to local interests might not be a panacea. McCaw had bought the News-Press from the New York Times six years ago.

Maybe not, nothing is sure in life, or in the newspaper business. Still, I continue to believe that the L.A. Times would be better off under local ownership. The odds are an owner like Eli Broad or Peter Ueberroth would be better for the Times than the squalid Tribune ownership, with its constant downgrading of the paper.

The troubles at the News-Press, by the way, seem to have been brought to a head by the editors' desire to print the news of the arrest of the editorial page editor, Travis Armstrong, for driving under the influence. Armstrong has now been named by McCaw as acting publisher.

It may sound like a slam-dunk that the arrest of Armstrong should have been printed, as it was, although a followup article was cancelled, but I can never recall the L.A. Times ever printing the news of such arrests of its own personnel. Missy Chandler, then-wife of Otis Chandler, was taken into custody one night by Sheriff's officers after she slugged one of them when stopped on the freeway. The news didn't appear in the L.A. Times. So maybe the determination of News-Press editors to print the news about Armstrong represented more back-biting than adherence to sacrosanct journalism.

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