Tuesday, August 01, 2006

L.A. Times To Run Ads On Front Pages of Sports, Business, Calendar and Travel

While I was away in Ashland, Oregon, seeing nine plays, the L.A. Times had some good days, especially in its coverage of the Middle East, the record heat wave in Los Angeles and the Mel Gibson drunk driving arrest, once the critical details emerged on a Website.

But the Times, like many newspapers recently, had a bad day when it was announced that it's going to start running ads on Page 1 of the Sports, Business, Calendar and Travel sections. The announcement was made by the Chicago-toadying publisher, Jeff Johnson, who loses few opportunities to reduce the quality of the paper, as he follows orders from the Midwest-headquartered losers, the Tribune Co.

Times editor Dean Baquet had the good grace to express "concern" about this devastating development, at least in regards to Calendar, in a comment in Jim Rainey's story on the move this Tuesday morning. Baquet did not extend the concern to Sports, which he has repeatedly downgraded in his tenure as editor.

Meanwhile, many readers of the Times will have more than just concern. These foolhardy moves will convince them that the Times is steadily becoming a second-rate paper.

Californians do not like losers, as I've mentioned before, and they quickly leave losers to go elsewhere, either in their reading habits or their attendance at various games, movies and plays. And putting advertising in more places is the sign of a deteriorating product, so sure to disgust key segments of the public.

The fact is, we live in an advertising-obsessed society. Advertising increasingly is obtrusive and I, for one, bitterly resent it, going so far as to make lists of frequent advertisers so I can be sure not to buy their products. It's like the charities that make oft-repeated solicitations. I generally stop giving to them.

Yes, I know, that advertising is essential in order to allow newspapers, magazines and television to go forward profitably. But that does not mean that it has to appear on the front pages. Except in Amsterdam, even brothels do not usually put their prostitutes out on the street, displaying their wares.

The Tribune Co. like other newspaper publishers, has lost sight of what their readers want and/or respect. It continually reduces detailed coverage and the size of news holes, when details are one of the most important things newspapers have to offer.

Every time Johnson so openly follows Chicago orders, he diminishes his stature as a publisher. He ought to go home in disgrace, following another ill-performing publisher, Mark Willes.

A word more about the Gibson story. Since I once covered the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, I'm not at all surprised that the department tried to suppress vital details about the circumstances of his arrest, his anti-Semitic remarks and his threats against the arresting officer. The Sheriff's public relations office has always been horrible, suppressing vital details about everything. It doesn't even require contributions, such as Gibson had made, to shut them up. For a well-staffed department, Sheriff's PR simply does not do its job, and is almost impossible to deal with.

I tried to make an issue of this when I was covering the Sheriff, but Lee Baca brushed aside the criticism and I even found that reporters from some other news outlets objected to me bringing the matter up at a news conference.

Times reporters generally, to their credit, push for more information. If the experience of being scooped by a Website pushes them into a more aggressive attitude toward this under performing agency of the inept county government, some good may come out of this. In which case, hooray!

As for Gibson, anyone who did not already know a long time back that he and his Holocaust-denying family were anti-Semitic had to have had both their eyes and ears shut.

On another matter today, I am sorry to hear that Dennis FitzSimons, CEO of Tribune Co., has had to have prostate surgery. He has always vigorously defended his points of view both inside and outside the company. May he have a speedy recovery.

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