About this Blog

RealClearPolitics Media Watch

Media Watch Home Page --> Los Angeles Times

L.A. Times Pulls Fast One With Disney Ad

The Los Angeles Times raised about as much of a ruckus as a newspaper can these days, thanks to something that ran prominently on its front page Friday.

No, we're not talking about one of those stories of the garden-variety politician caught in a compromising situation with a college-age staffer. Or the eye-bleeder about some civic center seven years in the making that is now woefully over budget ...

No, all this fuss is over an ad that ran on its front page. OK, a big, damn ad.

The Times bounded outside the box of what many believe to be acceptable journalistic standards for what's left of the newspaper business, when it plastered an ad on its front page for the Walt Disney Company's "Alice in Wonderland" movie.

Continue reading "L.A. Times Pulls Fast One With Disney Ad" »

Eli Broad Interested in L.A. Times

Real estate mogul and philanthropist Eli Broad says he's still interested in purchasing the Los Angeles Times - if the price is right.

Broad came close to buying the paper in 2007 before Sam Zell stepped in and took over the parent Tribune Co. in a $8.2 billion deal. In less than two years after Zell's debt-laden acquisition, the Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy protection, putting many of its newspaper properties in peril, including the Times, Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun.

During a symposium in Manhattan, Broad said he hasn't ruled out using his charitable foundation to buy the L.A. Times, provided that it's in a bankruptcy sale - i.e. could be scooped up for cheap.

"We can't afford to lose good newspaper journalism, investigative reporting," said the 75-year-old billionaire. "I would like to see our foundation and others join together to own the LA Times. (But) I am not sure it can be a national paper, or have the same aspirations it once had."

Broad conceded that he has no answers to the newspaper woes that have put the business on the brink of collapse throughout the nation. He mentioned tying up the Times with the Washington Post - the two papers already form a joint wire-service. But he also said that newspapers may ultimately have to be run as non-profits.

"No one has figured out a good business model as of yet," Broad said. "Newspapers ought to be owned by foundations, not look for great financial returns."

Troubled Times at the L.A. Times

I grew up reading the Los Angeles Times. Back when I was a teenager and a new immigrant to this country, I read the Times religiously - first just the numbers in the back of the sports pages, then gradually the contents in the voluminous sections. I literally learned and improved my English by reading the Times.

Spending the week in L.A., I discovered that the Times is but a shell of its former self. Check that - saying so would be giving "shell" a bad name.

A1-pe-front.jpg

The near-death spiral for the Times appears to be continuing unabated. On Saturday, the paper announced that it's trimming another 300 jobs. And it's also eliminating the "California" section, the primary local news page of the paper. According to a well-placed source, the morale at the paper has reached an all-time low.

That's saying something. This will be the fourth massive layoff by the Times in the last 12 months. After this round of reductions, the newsroom staff will be down to about 600, roughly half of its size in 2001.

The mass and frequent layoffs, not coincidentally, mirrored the plummeting circulation numbers of the paper. While it's still the fourth-largest paper in the country, the Times has experienced a readership loss that's unrivaled by any metro daily in the U.S. In 1998, the LAT's circulation was well over 1 million. At the end of 2008, it's down to 773,000.

Many point to the Times' troubles to its acquisition by the Tribune Co. in 2000. And it's not difficult to see why. The constant downsizing of both staff and content drove many readers away. The Times used to publish separate sections in both San Fernando Valley and Orange County, but they were both shut down in 2006 as readers fled to the Daily News and Orange County Register, respectively.

Moreover, the Times was slow to react to the challenges of the Internet age. Until initiating "The Spring Street Project" in late 2006, the Times web site was known for its unreliability and difficulty to navigate, leading to a scathing internal memo to describe the publication as "not web-savvy but web-stupid." To this day, the Times is still playing catch-up, as the traffic at latimes.com is dwarfed by other media portals and many papers with much lower circulation numbers.

The memos from publisher Eddy Hartenstein and editor Russ Stanton spelled out the latest round of changes (the Times is so sick of its internal memos being leaked by the staff, now it puts them up on its own web site so it doesn't get scooped!). Stanton managed to spin out this gem:

We are all too familiar with this process, but over the past year in particular, we have come through each of these downsizings and continued to produce some of the highest-quality journalism in our industry. We simply don't know how to do otherwise.

And to reward their readers, the Times also just jacked up the newsstand price from 50 cents to 75 cents.

Outsourcing the News

The wheels continue to turn in the great makeover of newspapers. Outsourcing may be the newest fad.

Coming on the heels of content- and beat-sharing deals in Maryland and the Metroplex, the Tribune Co. is contemplating a proposal that would allow it to shut down expensive foreign bureaus. Already under bankruptcy protection, the Tribune Co. seeks to cut expenses by buying the Washington Post's international coverage so it wouldn't have to maintain its own overseas staffs for the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

But the New York Daily News has an even more revolutionary idea. The nation's fifth-largest daily paper has signed a deal with GlobalPost, a Boston-based start-up, for its international news content. This is essentially outsourcing - GlobalPost is a warehouse where it hires an army of stringers worldwide on a part-time basis. More syndication deals like this will be needed to ensure its survival.

Is this a good idea? A quick glance at some of the GlobalPost articles suggests that its reporting is adequate. For most newspapers that rely on wire services for its foreign news coverage, this would even be an upgrade. But I think it's doubtful that most papers would be willing to pay the very reasonable fee of $50,000 or less to pick up GlobalPost if it never had overseas correspondents to start with.

Newspapers, though, will continue to explore ways to save money out of necessity - and outsourcing is an option. Last June, the Orange County Register and Miami Herald began outsourcing some of its copy editing to MindWorks Global Media Services, an India-based company. Since MindWorks claims that it saves the newspapers 35% to 40%, there surely will be more outsourcing to come.

MindWorks plans to expand its staff from its current total of 100 to 1,500 by 2013. If you're fresh out of J-school, you might want to consider relocating to New Delhi or Bangalore.