Friday, February 22, 2008

Zell Makes Clear: L.A. Times To Become Local Rag

If there was any doubt from the broad hints dropped by L.A. Times publisher David Hiller and his choice as lackey, new editor Russ Stanton, that the L.A. Times is eventually destined to drop much of its foreign and national news coverage and become nothing but a parochial local rag, it was made clearer last night by the comments made by new Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell in his appearance at the Hammer Museum.

Zell, who clearly has feasted in his life on too much rotten Chicago food, impairing his brain processes, said that there is no place in Los Angeles for a "national" newspaper and he dismissed foreign news as something "journalists like to cover" but fails to engage readers. He contended there is no business rationale for a national paper and predicted even the New York Times will soon be in trouble.

It is clear that Zell has all the smarts of Wendy McCaw, the disgraced owner of the Santa Barbara News-Press, and that the controversies that have ruined that newspaper are inevitably going to come to the L.A. Times.

Zell is such a bumpkin that he misunderstands Los Angeles -- a world class city -- completely and thinks Los Angeles readers will be satisfied with a paper who doesn't tell them what is going on in the world.

So, the network of foreign and national correspondents gloriously built up under the great publisher, Otis Chandler, who did understand Los Angeles, may soon be no more, unless the L.A. Times staff can somehow arrange for Zell, Hiller and Stanton to be ridden out of town on a rail, and the paper sold to someone who is a Los Angeleno and a Californian with the pride and ambitions of an Otis Chandler (someone like David Geffen, perhaps).

Kevin Roderick of LA Observed attended the Zell presentation last night, and the cautious Roderick then minced few words in describing what he thinks Zell means.

"If his opinions and assumptions carry the day, it's clear the Times will become a much different -- and probably a lesser -- news organization," Roderick wrote.

Later, in his report, Roderick wrote, "Zell is clearly not the kind of publisher who aspires to greatness and invests in hard, expensive kinds of journalism digging, complex issues that may take weeks or months to research."

When someone suggested that it sounded as if Times quality would go down, Zell responded only with a reference to the "arrogance" of journalists who aspire to put out something good. "Newspapers have to rethink what their role is," he remarked.

Now, we can better understand the meaning of Stanton's message to the staff that the buyout terms in the future are going to change, with less severance being paid. What Stanton, a man of Tulare tastes, wants is to encourage the Times' quality reporters, especially in Washington and abroad, to leave in the present buyout, so that he can close what Zell views as useless bureaus.

Meanwhile, the media writer at the Chicago Tribune reports that in a meeting with Tribune staff in Chicago Tuesday, Zell sounded as if he were scared by what he has found since assuming control of the Tribune Co. Notably, he told the staff, "This business has been eroding before your eyes, and you're worried about my language?...Everything I said was with an intent to get everybody to get off their (behinds) and understand this is a crisis. We've got to save this business."

What should be the reaction to all of this?

I say, fight Zell and everything he stands for. Although he suggested at one point last night that it might take a year to reinvent the Times, there is no time to lose. The lives of the Chicagoans and their appointees in Los Angeles must be made a misery.

But in the meantime, it's important for the good of California that new entrepreneurs come forward to build quality magazines and other publications here that can replace the Los Angeles Times as it goes down.

The one thing that Zell said last night that made some sense came when he was asked by Judy Olian, dean of UCLA's Anderson School of Management, who he planned to vote for.

Anybody but Hillary Clinton was his response.

This is right on the money, when one considers that Clinton made it plain, as reported by the Texas Monthly today, that she will press for inclusion in the Democratic National Convention of delegates she gathered fraudulently, against commitments she had made, in Florida and Michigan, against rules set by the Democratic National Committee.

Zell may be a jerk. But at least he knows well enough that another squalid Clinton presidency would be a disaster.

On the other hand, he reiterated that he would not seek to influence the editorials endorsements of the Tribune Company's newspapers. He joked, however, that a Times endorsement of Clinton, which so far the newspaper has avoided, might induce him to sell the newspaper.

If we had to accept a Clinton endorsement to get the Times out from under the Chicago mobocracy, I think it's a Faustian bargain I might be willing to accept.



Anonymous another old fool said...

Run up a white flag at the L.A. Times building. Zell is surrendering the territory. Throwing in the towel. L.A. is an open city as far as print media goes. Who wants it?

2/22/2008 1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what bile you spew, old boy. Get a life.

2/23/2008 4:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was at the Hammer. Zell may not be as bad as you think--ABC, after all--indicates he is nobody's fool. His emphasis on local coverage may be necessary to excite new readers who are indunated by international news on tv 24/7, as well as former readers who "went away mad" when the Times was on the wrong side of every boondoggle, every destructive scheme of the small minds and big egos who are our "movers and shakers" He recognizes the challenge of "new media", but sees a place for newspapers.No ipod and cellphone nut he. He seems to actually enjoy reading.
The real trick is to figure out how to put the hard copy into the hands of 21st century readers when they want it. The old home delivery model is out of sync with the way we live. The details of "circulation" determining advertising rates needs an overhaul.
I think if the paper shows spunk and "wanna read" Zell would spring for innovative coverage overseas. He is just the kind of guy who doesn't like to waste money and resources, especially on journalists who think they should be able to do what they want, and have the owner of the paper pay for it.

2/25/2008 2:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

zell bought the place with our money now he wants to get rid of everbody who help him buy the place. if I go I want my part of the company I help pay for it time to get a lawyer I think. I also think Fitzsimons is still running things, and it's not just me who feels this way. angry enployee

2/25/2008 1:34 PM  

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