Monday, June 09, 2008

L.A. Times Magazine Falls Out Of Editor's Grasp

There are so many terrible things happening at the L.A. Times these days that some of them get little attention. Yet, what it boils down to is that the newspaper's disintegration is continuing at a worsening rate.

Last week, news came that, unbeknownst to the editors, the often re-formed L.A. Times magazine is being reinvented again -- but this time it's completely out of the hands of the regular editors. A special task force has made new plans for it, drawn up a budget, hired personnel, but the implication is it will be separate from the paper, and, probably outside its ethical strictures.

Under an earlier publishing regime, that of Mark Willes, under whom the L.A. Times was sold to the evil Tribune Co., without any notice to him, the Times magazine was the focus of the Staples scandal. This was a sorry episode in which revenues from a story were shared with a private party, the Staples management. The story was more of an advertising promotion for the new indoor arena than a journalistic report.

The scandal was the subject of a special report in the Times by the late David Shaw, edited by the retired managing editor, George Cotliar, and it was among the factors leading to the end of the Willes regime, the firing of Michael Parks as editor, and the end of Times-Mirror.

I remember how Henry Weinstein and other leading reporters assailed the Willes and Kathryn Downing failures involved in the scandal at an open employees' meeting. Now, Weinstein is among many who have taken the buyout. Tbere are fewer and fewer people around now to call the company on wrongdoing.

Yet, it is evident that Sam Zell, Randy Michaels, David Hiller and other Tribune executives have even fewer scruples than Willes did.

Willes may have been in many respects a rank amateur, but at least he had grandiose ideas. He even worked assiduously to build up Times circulation. He had many ambitions for the newspaper.

Under the Tribune Co., by contrast, there are no such plans to build the paper up. Circulation has decreased by more than 400,000. The size of the staff has gone down from 1,100 editorial positions to 850, and is headed down by a further 80 to 150 in the near future, according to apparently reliable reports.

The Zell regime, despite earlier pledges, is manifesting itself through continual downsizing. Even experience is not at all wanted. The next round of layoffs, it is suggested, will target primarily those around long enough to be paid better than average salaries. In other words, those who know something about the business.

Under the burden of inept management, poor organization, such as spinning off the magazine, becomes inevitable. Looking around the paper, it's more and more every section, every enterprise, for itself.

In the New York Times today, the $12.8 billion debt the Tribune Co. board agreed to in order to facilitate taking the company private under Zell is given as among the prime causes for the continuing cutbacks, and divestments such as Newsday, and, soon apparently, the Chicago Cubs. The trouble is, this delays eventual collapse, but doesn't turn around the factors leading to it. The "less is more" philosophy of Zell is not the answer. It is accelerating the decline. The bottom line is, the man knows even less than Willes did about the newspaper business, and lacks both his imagination and ambition.


The L.A. Times is planning to cut back the paper in everything but the celebrity glitz that publisher David Hiller likes. Now, the paper announces today that it is hiring a celebrity court reporter and will soon form a "topics" team on this essentially lowbrow subject. The announcement came from David Lauter, who seems to be cozying up to present management, apparently in hopes he won't be one of the layoffs.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since our family moved to L.A. in 1966, I've only missed 3-editions of the Times. (Thru travel & sickness, papers were always saved and always read.)
So, I think I have a pretty good read on what the Times is and was.
As to the future, when I see the names Zell, Michaels and Abrams linked to my paper, it's close to nausea.
It's Zell's money and his paper....he can do what he wants.
We've survived almost 20-years since the Herald left us, I guess we can cope with a "ghost" of the Times.
Today's USA Today was 'only' 36-pages and it was a pretty good read. It's sports section is far superior in terms of coverage than what "the world's champion" used to be.
You can have a good paper in 36-or-48-pages.
But, this dumbing down of what should be LA's stallion of a paper is truly heartbreaking.
Are we all so stupid, Mr. Zell, that a story from overseas is not worth our time?
Should we name the Times' foreign correspondents (Joe Alex Morris, among them) who have died in action? Did the stories of Keyes Beech ever fail to hold our interest?
Pie charts & focus groups=the dumbing down of the Times....and America.
But apparently we will be up-to-date on that worthless Britney...........

Jeff Prescott, La Jolla

6/09/2008 6:45 PM  
Anonymous Student Journalist said...

Thank you so much for clearing up this debacle.

As a student journalist, one of my only dreams was to be an LAT reporter. I say this in past tense because I no longer have faith in its pages, flag or masthead.

I know the reporters and photographer are exceptionally talented and credible, but it seems that is no longer enough.

Thank you for writing this blog.

6/11/2008 5:32 PM  

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