Watching the Los Angeles Times slowly shrivel is like watching the slow death of an old friend. The paper is not only losing weight, but with scores of senior scribes laid off, the Times appears to be undergoing a slow-motion lobotomy as well. Earlier blows have been painful. But last week’s news of the proposed amputation of Section B, the “California Section,” is downright devastating. For decades the Second Section has been Southern California’s drumbeat of state, regional and local news.
Heretofore the Times’ plight could be attributed largely to outside forces: the internet; the proliferation of Spanish; cable TV’s 24/7 coverage of sports, national, and international news making it difficult for the Times to break stories about the Super Bowl, the Obamas, or the new Lesbian leader of Iceland.
But dissing the California Section is downright suicidal. If there is one section of the paper the internet and networks can’t whack, it is the Second Section. Great Ceasar’s Ghost! Nobody beats the Times’ investigations of the billboard wars, King Hospital or the mayor’s love life.
If you can believe the army of ex-staffers, the Times is reasonably profitable in its own right. The problem is bone crushing debt, a legacy of the merger moguls who sold and re-sold the Times. This is not the first time a Southern California media icon has been sold and resold into virtual oblivion. MGM Studios once gave the world movies such as Wizard of Oz. As the studio passed owner-to-owner it was finally whittled down at one point to little more than a lion logo and a library. Will the Times become just a masthead and a library?
It further pains that San Francisco may be laughing at us as we kiss “goodbye” to perhaps our biggest bragging right. Sure, the Bay Area has the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and is more nattily dressed. But they are stuck with the Chronicle, for decades a little league rag (especially after the passing of Herb Caen). Southern California may be sprawling and ugly but we have the Los Angeles Times.
We need Superman. Someone who can put Perry White back behind the desk and get on with covering Gotham in Section B. It is maddening. There are reportedly at least three Southern California business moguls who have expressed interest in buying the Times and, hopefully, could restore the paper to its former good health. So what gives?
I have a theory. I recall reading about a real estate developer whose business plan is buying large tracts of pristine, environmentally sensitive land and then moving forward on plans to develop the hell out of the properties. Alarmed, environmental groups rally to the crisis and pay three times the original purchase price to rescue the land.
Are the current keepers of the Times doing same? Have they tied our Daily to the railroad tracks, a kind of ransom to bring top dollar from a panicked suitor?
In the meantime, perhaps we could paint the Vincent Thomas Bridge Golden Gate orange, dress a little more upscale and re-route The Grove’s rustic trolley the length of Wilshire Boulevard. At least until someone, anyone, can get the Times off its death bed.