Friday, May 18, 2007

L.A. Times Has Grown Uneven; Buyouts Are Hurting

The buyouts, the cost cutbacks at the Los Angeles Times are having their effect. The paper can put together great stories, but some bad spots are creeping in. And when you take a look at those planning to take the latest buyout, you shudder. Put them together with several eminent writers and editors who have taken other jobs, and the effect is definitely bad.

Thursday's paper showed what the Times can do, and also what it is unable to do. It has become uneven.

There were excellent stories, three of which deserve special mention.

The lead story in the newspaper was the report by Mexican correspondents Sam Enriquez and Hector Tobar on the rising strains in that country, with an army ill-equipped for the job taking on the drug peddlers. Violence has been spreading, and no one is sure where it will all lead. But Enriquez and Tobar have been on top of the instability in Mexico, and this is obviously an important continuing story for the paper.

The paper has also been doing quite well on the developing Presidential campaign. Thursday, Ralph Vartabedian's long takeout on the aging of Sen. John McCain was a frank, perceptive look at his physical condition, his ailments. It was not too hard on McCain. It simply pointed out that if he's elected and serves two terms, he would be an octogenarian when he finished, and he has a mother still alive at 95, but his father and grandfather died at 70 and 61. McCain, a prisoner of war for more than five years in Vietnam, has had many physical trials in his life. This was a far more comprehensive story about a candidate's health than the New York Times has produced.

A third story that was absolutely fascinating -- and important -- was by Kathy Kristof in the Business section on a New York state consumer lawsuit against the Dell computer makers, who apparently have been engaged in bait-and-switch sales tactics, and haven't been honoring their service conditions. The suit brought by New York Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo may herald others in other states. Dell, in the meantime, has lost its lead position in the industry to Hewlett-Packard. This is, of course, not just an important story. It is partially a California story, although in this state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown has not yet said if he will bring suit.

Any one of these three stories were worth the price of the paper.

But the L.A. Times did not do well on the important Wolfowitz story. On Thursday, the day Paul Wolfowitz finally resigned as head of the World Bank, the New York Times presaged his quitting with the lead story in its newspaper, The headline turned out to be right on the money: "Wolfowitz Said To Push For Deal To Let Him Quit." The story by Steven Weisman was representative of the enhancement of the NYT's Washington bureau that has followed the installation as bureau chief of Dean Baquet, the man so foolishly fired by David Hiller, the new publisher of the Los Angeles Times, because he was publicly resisting the cost cutbacks.

While the NYT had this dead to rights, it was unfortunate that the L.A. Times Wolfowitz story, by Maura Reynolds,way back on Page 16. characterized Wolfowitz as appearing to "dig his heels in deeper." Hours later, Wolfowitz said he would leave.

Reporters can make mistakes, and I certainly made them when I was with the paper. I remember especially how Jack Nelson, the longtime LAT Washington bureau chief, was told that Walter Mondale was likely to be Jimmy Carter's choice for vice president at the 1976 Democratic convention. I resisted putting this tip in the paper, but it went in anyway, and Nelson, as usual, was right.

Still, when Baquet was named the NYT's Washington bureau chief , LAT Washington Bureau Chief Doyle McManus vowed to compete with him effectively, and it isn't always happening.

A lot of the fault may rest in Los Angeles. For instance, why, when Wolfowitz did resign, did they not run it this morning (Friday) on Page 1? It was clearly big news. The resignation of Wolfowitz, one of the principal neocons associated with the Bush Administration, did not belong on Page 17. The New York Times played it on Page 1 as their off-lead.

This is a small thing, but again Thursday, as for every day for years, the L.A. Times TV listings got some times wrong. Sometimes, it is referring to Eastern time instead of Pacific Time. So, for instance, the Sci Fi's channel had the movie, "The Day After," starting at 9 p.m., when, in fact, in Los Ange;es it started at 6 p.m.

As I say, there are bright spots. Obituaries continues to be one of them. Stephanie Simon's long obit on Jerry Falwell this week was superior to the NYT's. But, overall, these are sad days at the L.A. Times. We could all pretend things are fine. But they're not, and I don't think it helps not saying so.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken:

Don't blame the Times for SciFi's schedule.

Check to see what feed you get--SciFi has both an East and a West feed with a 3-hour difference.

If you check SciFi's schedule online http://www.scifi.com/schedulebot/index.php3?date=17-MAY-2007&feed_req=US:Pacific:W

you will find the movie listed at 9pm in Los Angeles by SciFi. Either they changed the schedule or you had the wrong feed.

5/20/2007 1:29 AM  

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