Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tension, Speculative Reports, Mount On L.A. Times Future

If Nikki Finke were writing about St. Francis of Assisi, she'd find something nasty to say about him. That must be borne in mind today as Finke speculates in an article in the LA Weekly that Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet is up to shenanigans by attempting, behind the scenes, to encourage a sale of the L.A. Times.

At this point, I'm willing to give Baquet the benefit of the doubt. He is putting his career on the line by resisting the Tribune Company's attempts to further downgrade the Times, and if he and managing editor Leo Wolinsky are out searching for a buyer, or in touch with prospective buyers, I say more power to them. Baquet has not earned the nickname "Dean of Arc" for nothing.

The fact is, there is no sure path, no entirely safe way, to get the L.A. Times out of its difficulties. The Tribune ownership has failed, and now, chances have to be taken to get the Times a more satisfactory owner, so that its traditions of editorial excellence can be maintained.

The Finke article today reports that entertainment mogul David Geffen is determined to buy the Times and feels confident he will succeed. Meanwhile, she says, Baquet has dispatched Wolinsky on a mission to secretly "drum up local support for a local buyer of the Times."

Whether this is true or not, it may be causing consternation in Chicago, among the ranks of Tribune Co. executives. Perhaps, as the New York Times suggests today, Baquet and Times publisher Jeff Johnson, who has supported him in refusing to make further cutbacks at the Times, have their jobs on the line.

But it is also certain that firing Baquet and Johnson would cause a crisis that would put the recent troubles at the Santa Barbara News-Press in the shade. This would be a nationwide sensation, and Baquet and Johnson would become heroes of journalists everywhere, if they are not already. The New York Times portrays the two as heroes in a Business section article by Katherine Seelye this morning.

If there is any chance the Tribune would sell the Times, and I believe there is, then getting rid of Baquet and Johnson could only reduce the asking price. So, since the Tribune directors have a committee working to explore the future of the Tribune, and whether it should be broken up, perhaps the Tribune will hold off on any disciplinary moves in Los Angeles.

There are lots of rumors these days. But we just have to be patient. There are uncertainties, but I have faith everything will come out all right at the L.A. Times. If it does, it will not include continued Tribune ownership.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it difficult to agree with you about Johnson. Johnson and Bob Belleck have been cutting the middle of the Times since they arrived. When Belleck arrived he did an interview for "Among Ourselves" the employee newspaper and one of his quotes was he could make many cuts/money saving moves and no one would even notice. Not an exact quote but that was his message. Guess someone noticed. Dean is a true professional however Johnson and Belleck have done nothing but reduce staff and make cuts reduce the overall quality of a great newspaper..

9/28/2006 4:25 PM  
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