Sunday, October 22, 2006

First Impression Of L.A. Times Design Changes A Little Disquieting

It's probably too early to reach any solid judgments on the design changes that debuted in the L.A. Times this morning. We will know more when we see the weekday editions.

But the kind of headline used to lead Page 1 this morning featured the block print used, to poor effect, in the edition that reported the 9-11 terror attacks six years ago, and it is NOT handsome. The Times had a less attractive 9-11 banner than most of the nation's newspapers.

This shows the taste of Joe Hutchinson, the "creative director" of the newspaper, whose judgment in such matters is very questionable.

As for the decision to move editorials out of the back of the California section to the back of Section A, the main news section, we'll have to see. This, of course, brings the paper closer to the arrangement in the New York Times, which has worked well for them.

However, the New York Times does not saddle its news section with two summary pages toward the beginning, as the L.A. Times foolishly has been doing. If this continues, we're going to have the news section sandwiched between useless summary pages, and what has proven all too often goofy editorial pages. The effect might not be good, especially if the news hole continues to diminish under the inept Tribune Co. ownership.

Dean Baquet, the editor, in a front page note this morning, makes the claim that the new design, and further changes to come, are "all the result of much study of what our readers have told us they want from The Times."

Maybe, but this reminds me uneasily of Baquet's (negatively speaking) Freudian slip when he said the Times was not out to get President Bush.

It seems Hutchinson, not the readers, has been the inspiration of at least some of the design changes, and Hutchinson has a poor record. He has no feel for Los Angeles.

But, as I say, it's early. We will see what the weekday paper looks like.

There is also a full page advertisement today by David Hiller, the new Tribune Co. appointee as Times publisher, talking, in part, about his devotion to Los Angeles. In light of every appearance that Hiller was sent out here to enforce further cutbacks in the newspaper, this was not tasteful. Hiller apparently is trying to create a false impression of his dedication to the wellbeing of the Times. He's got to prove that; he can't just say it.

Design changes are always chancy. They destroyed the Saturday Evening Post years ago. At a time when newspaper layoffs are proceeding across the country, the latest announced just in recent days for the San Jose Mercury News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, we can only hope that the Times design changes do work, and don't spin the newspaper into further difficulty.

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Sen. Barack Obama, reversing a position he took at the beginning of the year, now says he is considering whether to run for President in 2008. This is a welcome development, introducing an inspirational figure into the 2008 situation on the Democratic side. Whether Obama is ready for the presidency will be debated, if he runs, but he is older than Sen. John Kennedy was when he began his race for the presidency.

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A particularly poignant column by Steve Lopez appeared this morning in the California section on the grieving of a Hemet family for their son, a soldier killed in Iraq. Lopez, as usual, wrote with great sensitivity and commendably avoided saying "I told you so," despite his steadfast opposition to the U.S. Iraq invasion from the beginning. There was also a news story on the death of Kenny Stanton, may he rest in peace/

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