Sunday, October 07, 2007

LAT Website Falls Down on USC And UCLA Losses

The night the battleship Maine was blown up in Havana Harbor, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst called the office and was informed the news had "of course" been put on Page 1. "Have you put anything else on the front page?," Hearst asked his editor. "Only the other big news," the editor replied.

"There is not any other big news," Hearst shot back. "Please spread the story all over the page. This means war." (And, it certainly did).

That story, from author David Nasaw's Hearst biography, "The Chief," came to mind last night when I saw the paltry space given by the L.A. Times Website to the football victories by Stanford and Notre Dame over second-ranked USC and UCLA at the Coliseum and the Rose Bowl, respectively here in Los Angeles.

Both of these were monumental upsets. USC's win streak at home was ended at 35 games. Notre Dame broke a seven-game losing streak. A total of 163,000 fans attended the two games, held at virtually the same time.

Yet it took the Times Website quite a while to post it own stories on the twin debacles, rather than a wire service account, and when it did, both game stories only occupied subsidiary position on the front page. That was still the case this morning.

Under Times publisher David Hiller, who has vowed to improve the Website, the news is frequently not allotted adequate space on the Web. Hiller reminds me of the description then-Washington Post writer Nicholas von Hoffman once affixed to Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty: "a yammering little man without the class of Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago."

Oh, and, by the way, the Tribune Co., owner of the L.A. Times, also owns the Chicago Cubs, the hapless baseball team that lost its third of three straight to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Major League Baseball playoffs yesterday, removing the team from title contention for the 99th year in a row. But, at least, in Chicago, the Tribune Website played that as its off lead.

In Los Angeles, where circulation of the Times has dropped 350,000 in seven years of Tribune ownership, the question has to be asked how the newspaper managers expect to turn the tide, if it doesn't play the news people care about prominently.

Maybe, they think trying to ignore such monumental losses is the thing to do, although they didn't succumb to that temptation this morning in the Sports section of the print edition. The paper did have superb coverage in the print edition, with a front page story by Diane Putin and Mike Hiberman, main sports stories by Gary Klein on USC and by Chris Foster on UCLA, and several appropriate sidebars. T.J. Simers and Chris Dufresne had fine columns too.

One might say that as long as the print version of the paper covered the losses well, that the Website is not so important. But the Website is of increasing importance everywhere in journalism, and Hiller has, as I say, made a special point, so far unfulfilled, of saying the Times Website will be improved.

As it happened, I was at the Rose Bowl with my son last night to see UCLA play Notre Dame, and found it peculiar that the Rose Bowl announcers didn't keep the 78,000 spectators there up to date with what was happening over at the Coliseum.

When Stanford scored what proved to be the winning touchdown over USC, the announcer at the Rose Bowl didn't say a word. But many fans were listening to the other game, or following it on their cell phones or other advanced electronics. Hundreds of fans in our section used binoculars to try and see the end of the Stanford-USC game reflected on television monitors in the Rose Bowl press box.

So, it is not only the Times which fails to adequately convey the news promptly, but the Rose Bowl announcers fell into the same omission.

When the USC loss was finally announced to the crowd, there was a mighty roar in the Rose Bowl, and then everyone turned back to watching Notre Dame whip UCLA. There were seven UCLA turnovers in the game.

The Irish fans in the crowd had been pretty quiet well into the third quarter. But when Notre Dame went ahead 13-6, Irish cheers began to be heard, and at the end of the game, it turned out there were thousands and thousands of Irish fans at the Rose Bowl. Their willingness to come out when Notre Dame was a 20-point underdog was impressive.

This was only Notre Dame's second appearance in the Rose Bowl. The first occurred Jan. 1, 1925, when the Four Horsemen, the most famous of any of the Irish teams, beat Stanford, 27-10. The score over UCLA, which the Irish have played onbly four times, winning them all, this time was 20-6, and a Southern California high school graduate, Jim Clausen, was the winning Notre Dame quarterback.

The Times had joked earlier in the week that the 2007 Notre Dame team would probably be able to beat the Four Horsemen, noting that by now, if they were still alive, they'd be about 100 years old.

The main thing for the Times to remember is, it's in the newspaper business, and if it wants to continue to be, it's got to cover the news, on its Web site, and not only in the print edition.

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