Friday, February 15, 2008

Stanton Hints At LAT Foreign & National Cutbacks

Although he is a native Californian, in that respect a welcome departure from the succession of Easterners named as editors of the Los Angeles Times, Russ Stanton has neither the wide experience nor the distinguished record of virtually everyone else named as editor of the paper in the last half century.

In all likelihood, publisher David Hiller chose Stanton, 49, because he was someone who Hiller thought would yield to his plans to reduce the scope of Times national and world coverage and make it primarily a local newspaper, thus stripping it of any wider influence. And Stanton, in his initial remarks, promptly hinted as much, saying he hoped only to "retain some of the hallmarks" of the national and foreign news reports, while beefing up local coverage.

If Stanton does largely dismantle the network of foreign and national bureaus, he is certain to go down as the worst editor in the newspaper's history. If he does not, if he resists Hiller in this regard as his predecessors did, then, like them, he probably won't last long as editor.

Stanton, it has to be acknowledged, improved the paper's Business section when he was its editor from 2005 to 2007, and he did not do badly either as Innovation editor, although the L.A. Times Web site, while improved, still lags behind those of many other papers.

But this is going to be a real test for him. He is working for a man, a corporate toady, who has no vision for the paper, and whose main devotion professionally appears to be to save his job by doing whatever his masters in Chicago tell him to do. (Hiller may ultimately leave behind him only one worthy legacy -- his approval of, endorsements of Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain for their respective party presidential nominations).

The dangers to any man of integrity in the editor's job can easily be seen in the way the Tribune Company's new owner, Sam Zell, treated the last editor fired by Hiller, James O'Shea. Zell crudely declared that in his last, noble, address to the newsroom, O'Shea had "pissed" all over the newspaper.

Of course, what Zell was doing in making such a remark was pissing on himself.

Indeed, the more I hear about many of Zell's expletives in his appearances recently at the Times and other Tribune-owned newspapers, the more I realize that he seems to be unsuitable to be a press magnate. He sounds somewhat more childishly braggadocio than William Randolph Hearst was at his worst.

I hope Stanton takes careful notes, because if he does stand up against what he calls another "ground hog" day of further staff cutbacks at the Times, following the 100 to 150 just announced, then he is going to need them for his own farewell address to the staff, and for his resume for his next, safer job.

We are now in the midst of one of what the Times endorsements called one of the most exciting presidential campaigns in American history, and Times coverage of that race has been lagging badly behind the New York Times and Washington Post, not to mention the great British newspapers. But there was precious little mention by Stanton yesterday of any plans he has for covering the presidential campaign.

Let's hope he has some vision in that regard, beyond any boyhood interests he had growing up in Tulare.

The real hope for the Times would have been for Zell to appoint a new publisher in place of Hiller, and then an editor of stature to be named as a replacement for O'Shea. Los Angeles has such people. One of the best would be Geoffrey Cowan, former head of the Voice of America and retired dean of USC's Annenberg center of journalistic education.

One appointment made by Hiller yesterday may be encouraging, and that is the assignment of Jack Klunder as "president" of Times operations. Klunder has a long and distinguished career at the paper. Indeed, he would make a good publisher, if Zell would ever shove Hiller out the door.

I suppose, we can always hope for better days. After all, O'Shea, though absent from the newsroom a good deal of the time, did end up taking an honorable stand. Zell's insulting remark about him proved that.

Maybe, Russ Stanton too will be a martyr.


The death this week of California Congressman Tom Lantos, 80, the only Holocaust survivor to ever serve in Congress, marks the end of a heroic life devoted to the service of freedom throughout the world. Lantos, as a teenager, escaped not from one, but from two Nazi concentration camps, and he was a beneficiary of the work of the great savior of Hungarian Jews, the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, who disappeared after he fell into the grip of Stalinist Russia. When he got to Congress in 1980, Lantos was instrumental in honoring Wallenberg by authoring legislation that made him an "honorary citizen of the United States," like Sir Winston Churchill.

President George W. Bush, in paying tribute to Lantos this week, said, eloquently, "Tom was a living reminder that we must never turn a blind eye to the suffering of the innocent at the hands of evil men."

California, and particularly the Bay Area district he represented so ably for 14 terms, was fortunate to have him and his wife, a childhood sweetheart he found again after the war, as citizens.



Anonymous Andmond Fixoby said...

If Russ Stanton dismantles the foreign and national bureaus, he'll be remembered not as "the worst editor in the newspaper's history," but as an editor who finally puts reader wants and needs ahead of institutional ego and prestige.

For too long, the editors of the Los Angeles Times have been concerned primarily with competing with the New York Times rather than the Long Beach Press-Telegram, San Gabriel Valley Tribune and other newspapers that Southern Californians actually read.

Stanton would be wise to eliminate expensive baubles such as foreign and national bureaus and focus the Times' shrinking resources on what it can do best: covering communities across Los Angeles County.

2/18/2008 1:26 PM  

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