LA Times marches on

There are several Youtube videos of Sam Zell, the Chicago real estate magnate/Los Angeles Times-owner, clutching a lecturn and snarling at journalists in his employ about his “philosophy” in vulgarity-strewn upbraidings at the various newspapers he owns. In one posted last February, during a Q & A with writers and editors from the Orlando Sentinel, Zell tells a reporter “fuck you,” prefacing the epithet by saying “You need to, in effect, help me by being journalists that focus on what our readers want, and therefore generate more revenue…”

This statement alone exhibits the essential nature of Zell’s misunderstanding of, and disregard for, journalism and shows his ill-suitedness for owning any organization that disseminates news.

But In spite of the bad rap that Zell gets (and deserves,) the LA Times isn’t a bad paper. It still has excellent  writing and reporting on the national and international levels. While state and local coverage is hit-or-miss, LAT’s movie and TV news is topnotch due to The Envelope section, although the paper lost its best film  critic when it laid off Carina Chocano, who did a stellar job filling the shoes of the great Mahnola Dargis, who was lured away by the NY Times.

Several sections in the past year or so (Sunday op-ed, book review, TV guide, weekend guide, real estate) were reduced and added into other sections. I’m in the minority of readers who judge a paper by its print edition, so to me these moves diminished LAT, but I suppose, more importantly to Zell, they diminished his losses. I won’t be surprised if one of the next cutbacks follows the lead of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News and curtails daily delivery of LAT to a few days per week.

Lists deemed “smart” (hardly,) “overrated” and “underrated” could be retired. And LAT’s Sunday magazine has been cut back to a monthly and turned into a perfect bound version of a lifestyle flier. Tragic.

As for the online version of the paper, LAT’s blogs are sometimes more of a reason to look at their site than the regular news sections when it comes to local and sports reporting. Many stories are posted on the blogs in addition to appearing in the regular news sections and printed versions; but many blog posts that never go beyond the blog section are newsworthy enough to migrate to the “official” news sections.

The “hiatus” of The Homicide Report blog, which catalogued murders in LA, has been met with a steady stream of comments bemoaning its absence since it ground to a hault in mid-November. An example: “is the blog finished? the homicides aren’t. please bring the blog back…for the victims…for the families…for the community…please!”

Music critic Ann Powers scooped herself on Pop & Hiss, LAT’s music blog, by posting about a recent five-hour visit she had with Prince. And then the NY Times picked up the story and put in their print edition– who’s scoopin’ who? It was stuffed with juicy details (like a meandering limo ride through Hollywood as they listened to his forthcoming album) and I wonder how much more info there will be in her promised Calendar article about him on Jan. 11th.

The most recent change that bugged me about the print edition of the LA Times was when they did the redesign, the news summary was eliminated from page 2 of the front section and replaced with sound-bite style quotes (in large print, yet) from seemingly random stories. They often give no indication of the important news of the day; in fact they have the effect of dumbing down content. Aren’t there plenty of sources for that sort of thing already? With all of the eliminated sections, an overview of daily content and where to find it in the paper seems like a good idea.

I saved my guilty pleasure section for last: Image, LAT’s fashion section, is a hoot. It’s ditsy, dizzy, mindlessly out of touch, seriously suggests laughably tacky get-ups for women… and I kind of love it. They breathlessly report things like, “That’s right, our next president is a heartthrob!” But, being a still sartorial former New Yorker, I appreciate their recent efforts at advising the men of Los Angeles about shoe shines, tuxedos and suggestions to mix it up when it comes to different ways to tie a necktie. Good luck with that.