Saturday, January 27, 2007

LAT Staff Web Site Memo Is Too Restrained

fishbowlLA describes the Los Angeles Times staff report on the newspaper's failing Web site as "scathing." But, in fact, the memo, while somberly laying out the weaknesses of the Web site, is probably too restrained and polite.

The committee seems to presume that the man to which the memo is addressed, the usurping editor James O'Shea, is actually working for the Times, rather than the "axis of stupidity" at the Tribune Co. in Chicago.

It states, but goes easy on, how the Tribune Co. has blocked development of the Times Web site, and the memo's recommendations, while sound for the most part, will not be fully implemented by O'Shea and publisher David Hiller, because they would cost the Tribune Co. money, and the Tribune Co. is not willing to spend either its money or its resources on the L.A. Times.

The facts stated in the staff report are devastating. The L.A. Times may still be the nation's fourth largest newspaper in circulation, but its Web site does not rank in the top 100 of the most-visited Web sites in the United States overall, while the New York Times Web site ranks 21st and the Washington Post Web site 54th. The L.A. Times Web site has been slipping in visits, while the others have been growing. The staff at the L.A. Times Web site numbers only 18, while the New York Times has 200 Web site employees. The Times has abandoned many TV and stock listings, while promising readers Web access to them, but then has failed to provide easy access.

To correct this situation requires a considerable investment on the part of the paper (and Tribune Co.). Yet in his completely inadequate speech to the Times staff this week, O'Shea made no commitment to such an investment, and talked around many of the issues so politely raised in the staff report. Specifically, the dishonest O'Shea never mentioned parts of the report that detailed how Tribune Co. had been blocking moves to strengthen the Web site and trying to further centralize management in one of the nation's most inferior cities, Chicago.

The trouble here is not that O'Shea is stupid. But since he is working for the "axis of stupidity" under Dennis FitzSimons in Chicago, he and Hiller know they cannot afford to seem brighter than FitzSimons. If they do seem brighter, they know they will be forced out, just as John Carroll, Dean Baquet, John Puerner and Jeffrey Johnson were.

The bottom line is that nothing really constructive will happen at the L.A. Times until the newspaper gets out from under Tribune Co. by being sold to someone else.

The staff committee at the Times seems to be trying to pretend in this report that it can work within the present administrative framework, when, in fact, as a practical matter O'Shea and Hiller can be no more outspoken with central authority than Nazi gauleiters could be with Berlin during the Nazi occupation of Europe.

I must also say I don't share the committee's view that an L.A. Times Web site could mainly better compete by improving its presentation of local news, weather, etc. The fact is that unless the Times takes full advantage of its foreign and national reports on the Web site, it will never be able to match its competition. We are in the midst of a major war. Public attention is often focused, as it should be, on international events. Providing suburban weather, alone, is not going to cut it.

I'm always fond of quoting Henry Adams, who once wrote, "You can't use tact with a Congressman. You have to take a stick and hit him in the snout."

It will take more than a hit in the snout, unfortunately, to deal with O'Shea and Hiller. The paper is going to have to be sold, and they will have to be packed off to Chicago in sackcloth and ashes.

--

I cannot accept easily the notion, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, that the Chandler family may launch a proxy fight to increase its representation on the Tribune Board of Directors. The Chandlers, rather than engage in more counterproductive backbiting, would be better advised to press harder for a breakfup of Tribune Co., or at least a sale of the L.A. Times. Otis Chandler and his parents must be rolling over in their graves at the constant reminders that the Chandler family heirs stand for nothing except more income from their journaliistic properties.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous David Lewis said...

Why do I drift from the L.A. Times to other options? Counting the ways, how about the superior Book Review offered by the NYT, a review that gives more preference to non-fiction -- at least in today's issue, which I picked up in lieu of the LAT, a no-show due to their inferior delivery system. The current LAT book editor adores fiction and recently, in an op-ed piece. advocated more (his words) "creative non-fiction."
How progressive. How dumbfounding.
David Lewis
Piedmont

1/28/2007 1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fyyyfa.

1/28/2007 5:40 PM  

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