Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A BAD First Move By Stanton, New LAT Editor

Written from Redwood City, California--

Critical as I've been, I've been too nice to the Tribune Co. and its appointees, as they've proceeded over the last eight years to downgrade the L.A. Times. There were times I was too hopeful -- about Sam Zell, about the good effect I thought would occur with the firing of Dennis FitzSimons as CEO, and many other instances as well. The New York Times has a long story just today about how terrible David Hiller has been as the Tribune appointee as publisher. The story by Richard Perez-Pena all but identifies Hiller as a liar. Of course, we all knew that.

But there has seldom been a more discouraging moment than now, when Hiller's appointee of an unqualified man as new editor of the newspaper is followed so immediately by the editor, Russ Stanton's, decision to fire one of the most talented of Timesmen in this sad era -- John Montorio, who has recently been serving as managing editor.

Montorio issued a graceful departure statement, expressing pride in his accomplishments in rejuvenating Calendar and other features sections. He has not one unkind word to say about the jackass who just proved his incompetence by firing him.

So let me say it. This was an act of a damn fool. The Lord knows what screwy plans he has for the sections Montorio managed with such distinction.

As I said when Dean Baquet was fired for defending a quality Los Angeles Times by Hiller, we need not wish Montorio good luck: With his talents he will have it.

Baquet went to work as Washington bureau chief of the New York Times. Montorio will soon land just as good a post, and he will be working for gentlemen, not assholes. Baquet, by the way, is quoted in today's New York Times story as castigating the mind set of Tribune executives -- the first time I believe that he has let loose on them publicly, since taking the NYT post.

Montorio is now the second managing editor of the Times to lose his job due to Tribune executive stupidity. Just last year, the talented Doug Frantz left, after editor James O'Shea, himself terminated soon thereafter, failed to back him up in a dispute with a reporter over a biased article he had killed.

John Carroll is gone. Dean Baquet is gone. James O'Shea is gone. Doug Frantz is gone. Now, John Montorio is gone. And that doesn't list the fine reporters who have left. Or, unfortunately, those who will be leaving soon, for greener pastures.

And it all goes back to the corrupt Mark Willes, who managed the newspaper into scandal and finally had the paper, and the other Times-Mirror papers so skillfully developed by Otis Chandler, sold out from underneath him to the low class Tribune Co.

Now, we learn, the Staples scandal is about to be repeated, with a decision to put the Los Angeles Times magazine in hands other than editorial. It will become an advertiser's tear sheet.

What can we do? It seems that Zell and Hiller are proving, day by day, they need psychiatric help. But an able psychiatrist might commit them.

Instead, when they fall on their faces, as they surely will, they probably will walk off with multi-million dollar severances, while it will be the ordinary employees of the Times who will bear the cost, the ones who Zell calls "the owners" of the paper.

It is sad, sad, sad. And now, with the termination of Montorio, the inept Stanton is beginning a new chapter in the slow destruction of the Times as a worthy newspaper.

But all that cannot remove the luster from the great editors who have gone, Montorio, Frantz, Baquet, and Carroll. Let us salute them today. They did their best. They fought the good fight. It was not their fault that they were overcome by men of squalor -- FitzSimons, Hiller, Stanton, and, unhappily, Zell, who took over with fairly high hopes.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken, what color is the sky in your word?

You seem intent on blaming the Times' woes on inept management, whether Mark Willes', Dennis FitzSimons' or David Hiller's.

The fact is, however, that ALL newspapers are suffering economic problems that have led to editorial cutbacks. Are they ALL managed by morons? Here's a far-from-exhaustive list of papers that have experienced, or are about to experience, significant editorial headcount reductions: The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News.

The changing economic climate is not the fault of Times publishers, past or present, and it certainly isn't the fault of Tribune.

2/20/2008 7:55 AM  

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