Sunday, August 20, 2006

Rutten And Wolinsky Sound Rebellious Against Tribune Co. In Articles

The glory of the L.A. Times staff is that it continues to be rebellious against those, such as Mark Willes in the past or the Tribune Co. in the present, that would diminish the paper's ethical values and its journalistic quality in their greed for more profits.

The latest exhibit of this was in Saturday morning's Times when Tim Rutten's column in Calendar both took on Tribune priorities and reported that Leo Wolinsky, one of two Times managing editors, had, in effect, done the same in an article in the Financial Times of Great Britain.

Rutten commendably has now followed columnist Steve Lopez in implicitly favoring a sale of the L.A. Times to interests that would rescue it from the downward spiral which has marked six terrible years of Tribune ownership.

The Rutten column and the Wolinsky article come at a possibly critical time in the process. Just last week, it was revealed that iconoclastic investor Nelson Peltz had invested in Tribune stock and conferred with dissident Chandler family representatives on the Tribune board in an apparent move to encourage a breakup of Tribune. Any such breakup would likely lead to a sale of the Times.

Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons is now in as lousy a position in the Tribune saga as the Bush Administration appears to be in Iraq. In Iraq, however, President Bush is stubborn, while it is at this point by no means clear that FitzSimons has the stubbornness to keep a failing company, such as Tribune, together. He may bail out, if he can arrange, as Willes did when he was Times-Mirror CEO, a golden parachute.

In his column, Rutten decries the corporate cost-cutting which is leading journalism into greater and greater difficulty.

"It doesn't overstate things by much," he declares, "to declare that if their (corporate) backroom influence over the news media isn't checked, the result will be a sort of slow-motion catastrophe in which we simply await that last apocalyptic thud to announce our arrival at the bottom of the abyss."

Discussing a recent scandal in which the Reuters news agency was found to have accepted and disseminated fraudulent pictures of the war in Lebanon to benefit the terrorist side, Rutten shows in the column how cost-cutting at Reuters led directly to the malfeasance.

"The truth is that 'consolidation' and cutbacks are creating similar hazards throughout the English-speaking world's journalistic network," he remarks.

Rutten also observes that "Coverage of foreign news, always an expensive proposition, has suffered worse than almost any other category of coverage. Recently, for example, the Baltimore Sun -- which like The (L.A.) Times is owned by the Tribune Co. -- was forced to close the last of the foreign bureaus it had maintained since 1887. Baltimore readers still will get coverage provided by this paper (the Times) and the Chicago Tribune, but with each such reduction American journalism loses more of the redundancy that helps keep it honest and multiplicity of perspectives that helps keep it fair. Worse, all this occurs at a historical moment in which responsible citizenship requires a wider and more sophisticated grasp of foreign news than ever before."

In other words, the world is sinking further into a crisis, while the corporate scoundrels, the Dennis FitzSimons of journalism, in their greed and myopia, retreat from covering it.

Wolinsky, in the Financial Times article reported by Rutten, said, "There is only a relative handful of papers that still have big ambitions for themselves."

Yet, Wolinsky points out, "despite the widespread perception of a financial crisis, profitability in the industry is close to its all-time high."

Cost-cutting has led, Wolinsky remarks, to rising "alarms in the newsrooms of papers that believe they still hold a unique place in fulfilling a public responsibility."

Thanks to Rutten and Wolinsky, the L.A. Times staff shows again it cannot be cowed. Now, Times editor Dean Baquet should join them in making his views known.

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