Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Stock Analysts Show Contempt For LAT On Frontline

Tuesday night's comprehensive look at the L.A. Times situation on Frontline was mostly fair to those parties interviewed, and what it showed very clearly was the contempt that two Wall Street stock analysts have for even the idea of the L.A. Times as a paper that covers the nation and the world.

Both Charles Bobrinskoy, vice president of Ariel Capital Management, and Lauren Rich Fine, director of the Merrill Lynch firm that nearly bankrupted Orange County, suggested that with the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today, America already has enough national newspapers, and that the L.A. Times could best serve its readership by emphasizing only local news and leave the more complicated subjects to those papers.

By saying that the war in Iraq need be covered only by the Eastern press, they were saying Californians and other Americans should have no real interest in what goes on there and leave it all to the liberal cosmopolitans of the Council on Foreign Relations and a few likeminded Eastern reporters.

With such an attitude, no wonder Wall Street has helped plunge the Tribune Co. into such dire difficulty. The recommendations of such analysts, and their utter contempt for the newspaper industry and what they believe are the parochial interests of readers, have helped drive Tribune stock prices to new lows. This morning, with the stock drop off yesterday, Tribune was under $30 a share.

Bobrinskoy and Fine are the kind of Easterners who don't believe there is anything worthwhile west of the Hudson River. They ought to climb in their cars, if they do anything but take the subway, and drive West to see the great, diverse country that's out there. They need to be convinced that Westerners are just as worthy as Easterners in understanding and participating in national and world issues.

The program, conducted by Frontline's Lowell Bergman, gave both former Times editors, John Carroll and Dean Baquet, plenty of time to defend their point of view that journalism is a public service and that the Times should be a cosmopolitan paper. Both did a fine job. Kevin Roderick reported this morning that those who he checked with thought Baquet was "the winner in a knockout."

The new Times publisher, David Hiller, came across on the program as somewhat neutral. To his credit, he did say the Times would continue to cover world and national affairs, but he also defended his ouster of Baquet. He was not dressed, nor did he come across, as much like a Californian, for the obvious reason that he is not one.

The inept Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons and his "axis of stupidity" that runs Tribune did not appear on the program, leaving it to Hiller to defend Chicago's positions. Later, there were reports that the Frontline interview with him had been pared unreasonably, and an interview with the current L.A. Times editor, James O'Shea, left on the cutting room floor altogether, although it has now been posted on Frontline's Web site. Both Hiller and O'Shea, in the online versions, strongly defended L.A. Times worldwide coverage.

(In one piece of good news, Times Foreign Editor Marjorie Miller has posted word of assignment of a new team in the Middle East, three new correspondents in Baghdad, and new bureau chiefs in Cairo and Beirut. Megan Stack, who has been covering both Cairo and Beirut, will go to Moscow, where her talents will undoubtedly be put to good use. Thanks goodness, Miller, and apparently Hiller and O'Shea as well, are not following the stock analysts' advice).

When Los Angeles entrepreneur Eli Broad appeared on the program, he said that if he obtained ownership of the L.A. Times, he would be satisfied with a return on his investments of as little as 5 to 8% a year, as compared to the 20% that Tribune has been demanding.

This drew only contempt from Bobrinskoy, who observed that only a private owner, not a shareholder, would ever take such a position. His comments may be important, because his firm owns a 6% share of outstanding Tribune Co. stock.

Greed -- not the public interest -- is the only salient characteristic of Wall Street. That came through clearly on the program. But it is misplaced greed as well, since Wall Street's advice has actually helped cause the decline of the fortunes of newspapers, while new investment in them would likely stop it.

To his credit, O'Shea issued a statement today taking issue, particularly with Bobrinskoy.

"Mr. Bobrinskoy knows as much about newspapers and the needs and news appetites of the readers of the Los Angeles Times as I know about astrophysics," O'Shea said. "Everyone should keep in mind that 'analysts' of the stock market are the same ones who advised people to buy stocks such as Enron. I could fill the Grand Canyon with the misinformation that people such as Bobrinskoy have spread. So I think everyone should look at his comments in that context. I have never heard anyone at Tribune Co. advocate that the Los Angeles Times should become a paper without foreign or national bureaus. I doubt he represents anyone's views but his own. I certainly don't think he is right, and I never would have agreed to be your editor if such a preposterous proposal were part of any deal."

I'd really give this a hardy cheer, were O'Shea not, undoubtedly on Chicago orders, been planning to fold Current and the Book Review together, cut their content and move the section to Saturday's paper, when fewer will go out. This continues the Tribune cut backs which have treated the Times as if it were an unwanted step child for seven terrible years.

The editor of Current, Nick Goldberg, should have been removed long ago. He and his wife are both enemies of California, she even wrote a book slamming the state.

Kit Rachlis, once with the Times editorial pages, noted above a Los Angeles magazine article about the Times last week, "I worked at the L.A. Times from 1994 to 2000, and watching what's occurred there in the past few years -- massive job cuts, a severe decline in circulation, distant owners insistent on obscenely high profit margins -- has filled me with sadness."

Bill Boyarsky chimes in on his blog, calling a Times editorial on county government last Sunday "unbearably long, condescending, pompous and just plain dumb."

Who knows less about the newspaper business? Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons, Bobrinskoy, Fine or Times editorial pages editor Andres Martinez.? Bobrinskoy, Fine and Martinez are vying for most ignorant, but I'm afraid FitzSimons wins hands down.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

You obviously didn't watch the segment. First off, Bobrinskoy is from Chicago. They made that extremely clear so that is why I doubt you saw it. You say they want the LA Times to "leave the more complicated subjects to those papers". Not more complicated, just national and world subjects. They think the LA Times would suit their readers better by having more local coverage. And where did you get "Californians and other Americans should have no real interest in what goes on there" from anything they said? They were saying everyone already has access to national and world news but people from LA have a shortage of quality local coverage. No one outside LA reads the LA Times for national or world coverage but people in LA can read the NY Times or watch CNN for that coverage (like everyone else) They cant however read the NY Times for coverage of LA. How do you not get this?

11/19/2009 12:12 AM  

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