Why is it that the Los Angeles Times always feels like it’s yearning to be what it should be but never quite making it?
It’s easy to pick on things like the book section, if there is one, or the Times’ consistently page-starved Sunday magazine section. Where the New York Times Sunday Magazine’s stories seem to be ahead of the curve, the LA Times Magazine seems to sense no particular curve whatsoever.
But again, those things are easy targets. What about those front pages where you can’t quite tell what the “A” stories are? What about having to pull the California “B” chunk out in order to find out if the mayor was shot last night?
I grew up in Milwaukee and have monitored the decline of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in that city. That newspaper suffers from a litany of ailments common to most American newspapers over the last two decades. There’s the problem of trying to make the look of the paper ‘pop’, with boxes and colors and photo layouts that make it a chore to navigate with your eyeballs. Then there seems to be no internal guidance system at work when it comes to determining the mix of hard news to feature puff and popcorn.
Maybe there’s a standoff right now on whether audiences in smaller cities should learn to ingest grown-up adult newspapers or their papers should continue schmaltzing-up content to compete with all our other journalistically tepid and incomplete media. But there isn’t any question that the metropolis of Los Angeles should have a robust, adult, full-bodied newspaper that doesn’t embarrass us.
So why is the Los Angeles Times cutting 85 editorial jobs, representing about 8 percent of its newsroom?
The official line from L.A. Times editor Dean Baquet is that “this is a rough year for newspapers. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have also announced significant cuts in staff or expenses.” Others immediately took him to task, including Marc Cooper of the L.A. Weekly who noted “while the LA Times is in crisis, it’s hardly unprofitable.” Cooper pointed out that the L.A. Times own business columnist, Michael Hitzik, reported that the Times returned $200 million in profits last year, about a 20 percent return for its owner, the Tribune Publishing Company. “But you know, nothing is ever quite enough,” Cooper laments. He reports that the Tribune board wants a 25 percent or higher rate of profitability.
Smaller media will continue to criticize larger media and it’s no news bulletin that when media reaches for greater popular success, the public loses. But, to some extent, it might be our fault.
Writing on a related matter earlier this year, I was startled to discover that the circulation of the L.A. Times is less than one million… in a city of almost ten million. Daily circulation dropped 3.8 percent to 853,432 over the last six months. Okay, I have complaints, but why aren’t you reading the L.A. Times?
If the American habit of at least perusing the morning paper is disappearing, then it’s chilling to consider even a few of the things that are replacing it: Checking in on Howard Stern’s juvenile vaudeville, Katie Couric introducing country singers or the histrionic blather of talk radio. These injuries are self-inflicted, and pretty soon (to fine tune Will Rogers) all we’ll know is what we haven’t read in the papers.
This Week’s “Know Your News” Quiz
1) A Japanese architect admitted to
(a) cuts weakening buildings in
(b) same-looking Japanese
(c) a deep fear of Godzilla.
2) Iraqi press may contain
(a) less than hilarious cartoons.
(b) stories planted by U.S.
(c) hot “Desperate Housewives”
3) Chicago Zoo chimpanzees are
(a) communicate with computers.
(b) use the Home Shopping
(c) drive big SUVs.
1) (a) “But the carpeting is
2) (b) “Yankee ingenuity…”
3) (a) “Go to