Publisher fired at LA Times
The firing of LA Times publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson should come as no surprise. Just a few weeks back, his bosses in Chicago told him he was going to have to make additional financial cuts, particularly in the editorial room. It should be noted right here that the Chicago Tribune, founded in 1847, has a long and proud record of journalistic accomplishment. In the years since the Tribune Company has taken control of the LA Times, the editorial performance has improved itself, as evidenced by the record number of Pulitzer Prizes they have won. And by the fact that there have been no attacks on its editorial credibility, as had occurred under prior management (the Staples debacle).
Mr. Johnson refused to make the cuts management felt necessary, and along with Editor Dean Baquet visited Chicago to make their case. To the credit of Tribune Chairman Dennis FitzSimons, Scott Smith, president of Tribune Publishing, and the rest of the Tribune Board, Johnson got his due and was not summarily dismissed. Many at the Times stood with him in their resolve with a veiled threat of a job walkout. Last week he did finally lose his job. Some call his stance bravery. I call it foolhardy. If he was interested in looking after the editorial integrity of the Times, better HE do it with HIS loyalties and knowledge of the current staff. By losing his job and bringing in a “loyalist” from Chicago, he loses that ability. And the editorial positions at the Times will be at continued risk. David Hiller, the new boss and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, by most accounts is a good publisher, however he will undoubtedly have few loyalties and will do what the company feels is necessary to improve returns. Which is his job. By taking a contrary stance, Johnson has lost one of the best jobs in the country, and we by all accounts have lost a good publisher. Too bad.
There is more that needs to be considered here. The LA Times is a big moneymaker, so this is not about saving a losing operation. This is about improving an already profitable situation, and candidly it is because the Chandler family is still throwing their weight around seeking a greater return on their investment. Perhaps they should sell their stock in the Tribune Company and go their own way. If only.
In the end, my guess is the Tribune Company will choose to sell its broadcast businesses. The synergy originally thought to exist by melding TV, radio and print does not exist. As a result, the main publishing company has lost its core focus of print publishing and now the Internet. Choosing to sell KTLA and other such properties will undoubtedly drive the Tribune stock price higher and with it the Chandlers already considerable fortune. When will this town ever be rid of these people?
As to Eli Broad or David Geffen owning the LA Times, I think it is a ridiculous idea. The impartial integrity of the paper would suffer almost immediately, as it would soon be seen as a “voice” of some local billionaires.
As for my view of newspapers in general: a daily newspaper puts too great a demand on its readers to stay present. Especially a large metropolitan daily like the Times. Most of the news found in the Times can be found online before the paper is delivered. This is not the case for local news. Which is why we still do what we do.
Let’s talk about our schools for a minute. Although this is just the honeymoon period for our new SMMUSD Superintendent Dianne Talarico, Samohi Principal Dr. Hugo A. Pedroza and SMC President Dr. Chui Tsang, most signs point to an improved situation on all fronts. Let’s start with SMC.
Piedad Robertson, former president of SMC, has resigned her post in Colorado and will be returning to Santa Monica full time. The project simply took her away from home for too long a period of time, and if you know Ms. Robertson, you know home is where her heart is. I recall fondly visiting her offices at SMC and being surrounded by photos of kids, grandkids and family members of all stripes. For those who are happy with SMC’s new president, know that Robertson will not be taking an active role at the college. She did a lot to build SMC into a modern campus, with infrastructure improvements having been her main forte. Just note the new science building, swimming complex, library, theatre and the coming new Madison performing arts center.
Her “reign” at SMC was not without rancor, of course, as many people felt she was a land grabber and ruled with an iron fist. Teachers did not fare as well under her as administrators did, but tough choices were made, and the college fought through some hard fiscal times. Enrollment appears to be climbing again, and under President Tsang teaching and classroom education will be taking a stronger focus. Tom Donner, one of the chief architects of the Robertson era, is running for the College Board. Donner should be given the title “Permanent Temporary Emeritus SMC President” for the times he stood in while new presidents were being sought. Donner, who lives in Malibu, is strong in fiscal management. He knows SMC’s finances better then anyone and would provide appropriate balance on the board.
At SMMUSD the high energy, well-intentioned and frenetic pace of John Deasy is long gone. In its stead is Superintendent Dianne Talarico, who by all accounts is key on bringing teaching back to the classroom. After all, that’s what it’s all about: teaching, learning and providing a healthy environment where kids can grow and learn. On top of that, we have a new principal at Samohi who appears more grounded in the student body than in administrative affairs. Samohi is where our teenagers grow through adolescence and puberty, a challenging time for them and a real testosterone-hormonal mess for the people running the show. During the 2005-06 school year, tense race relations soured part of the school year with little constructive dialogue from the administration. Under Principal Pedroza, I have a hunch things will be different. I don’t think he will take any guff, but more important he will have his ear to the ground, and the students will most likely respect him and communicate with him. Let’s hope so. And let’s not forget he cannot do this alone. Parents have to be intimately involved in their teenager’s life or everything can break down real quick.
There is once again another bond measure on the ballot asking residents of this community to tax themselves for infrastructure improvements at our schools. I think it is highly remarkable that in a community of primarily single people and a lot of senior citizens, rarely, if any time in the recent past, has a school spending measure failed. This community understands the value of education and votes for it, time and time again. My hat is off to all of you.
When I see private school facility classrooms, bathrooms and infrastructure, I see one of care and respect for the people who are learning there. The same concern must be shown to the children at the SMMUSD schools. Make the bathrooms ones where YOU would go. Steam clean the walkways (perhaps ban chewing gum?), put in new lighting and lots of green landscaping. Pull up asphalt wherever possible and green it. I read where all of the asphalt in Los Angeles heats the city an additional two degrees. If you have ever been on a schoolyard in the summer it is more like 15 degrees. Lose it. We would not asphalt our backyards, so why do we do that to kids? Plant flowers. Paint buildings, inside and out. Couple all that with more money for teachers – a lot more – and you will see improvements in society at all levels. Education is the #1 predictor for crime rates, population control, wealth creation – all the goodies we desire. It is time to stop shortchanging it.
Vote Yes on bond measure BB.
Vote for your school board members that you feel will serve the interests of students first and foremost.