Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hiller And O'Shea Give LAT Staff Pure Drivel

The statements issued to the Los Angeles Times staff yesterday by the Tribune toadies, publisher David Hiller and editor James O'Shea, defending the dismal plan for new layoffs were, even for usually mealy-mouthed Tribune executives, marked by much drivel.

O'Shea, as usual, was the worst of the two. He began with a statement that"I didn't come out here to preside over a decline of this great newspaper."

That is equivalent to Churchill's statement that he wasn't going to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire, or Nixon's declaration, "I am not a crook."

It is, to the contrary, absolutely clear that Hiller and O'Shea were sent out here to preside over a downgrading of the L.A. Times, and since they have arrived whole sections have been closed or merged, the news hole has diminished, and now the staff is being cut back again. They are architects of the ruin of the paper, which in the view of so many Los Angelenos is no longer great. The one thing they have done that is constructive is to reverse some of the damage done by the abyssmal redesign of the paper's type faces by Joe Hutchinson, now, thank goodness, departing. But undoing a fatally-flawed redesign cost them no money.

Of all the things that O'Shea said, the single most ridiculous was his assertion that he understood and, by implication, shared the staff's dismay that the layoffs at Tribune newspapers are accompanied at the same time by the promise of millions of dollars for golden parachutes for executives who leave as a result of the acquisition of the failing chain by Chicago real estate magnate Sam Zell.

This is rank hypocrisy, because there is every indication that both Hiller and O'Shea would be among those benefitting from these golden parachutes -- amounting to $269 million potentially -- if they were to leave.

And, I think, they will eventually be leaving, because Zell will be too smart to maintain in his employ a bunch of losers like the Tribune executives are now.

Neither Heller nor O'Shea have even a small fraction of the courage exhibited by Dean Baquet and Jeff Johnson in resisting the Tribune policy of cuts, cuts and more cuts. These men put their jobs on the line out of principle and were, figuratively, guillotined for it.

The only principle Hiller and O'Shea believe in is to do their master's bidding, no matter how destructive it may be, to the fortunes of the Times.

If the inept CEO Dennis FitzSimons tells Hiller and O'Shea to jump off the building, not only will they jump, but they will take the Times staff, their families and their children and jump off with them, using their bodies as cushions, before they cart off their fat bonuses.

Make no mistake about it, the way to reverse the Times' decline is not further cuts, more jumping off the tower, but investment in the paper. Any other course will simply deepen the declines, until the Times is just a shadow of it former self under Otis Chandler and Tom Johnson.

There was not a word in either Hiller or O'Shea's statement about a larger promotional budget to sell subscriptions and reverse the precipitate decline in circulation. Instead, there was bombast about a better Internet operation, when almost all the Times revenues come from the printed product, and that is likely to be true in the foreseeable future as well as the past and present.

There was also an ominous omission in the Hiller statement of anything about maintaining the Times' distinguished foreign and national coverage. Instead, he took a parochial approach, talking only about local coverage. That is important, but taken alone, it is not enough to satisfy the discriminating Times readership.

Professional lives are being sacrificed here. As O'Shea does admit, the Times is still making money, but that money is disappearing into the pockets of the Tribune executives.

These men are not leaders, nor are they loyal to the Times, Los Angeles or California. We can only hope now for their quick termination by the new owner and their departure from Los Angeles in sack cloth and ashes.

As for the Times staff, we can only hope they will exhibit the courage and persistence they have in the past, to rebel against the oppressive company that bought and then denigrated the paper.

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