L.A. Times publishers cut quality

Lariat Editorial Board

When real-state baron Sam Zell took over the Chicago-based Tribune Company, a series of unfortunate events was set off. The nightmare began as the Tribune bought the Times Mirror company for $8.2 billion in March of 2000. The merger meant that Times Mirror’s top property, the Los Angeles Times, would change hands and be now controlled by the owners of the Chicago Tribune, among several other media outlets.

The strict cost-cutting policies of the Tribune Co., along with the emergence of other media sources that have been eroding into the paper’s profits, have created a myriad of problems for the gatekeepers of California’s best newspaper.

On Jan. 20, the Times lost its second editor in 15 months due to refusing to abide by the budget cuts imposed by the Tribune. Jim O’Shea, former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, was dismissed for fighting to maintain the quality of his newsroom, and of the paper itself. This is a clear sign of the times to come; things didn’t use to work this way.

The L.A. Times had been owned by the Chandler family for most of the 20th century and peaked in popularity during the 60s. That decade saw them win four Pulitzer prices, more than they had won in the previous 90 years.

However, circulation started decreasing during the 80s and that foreshadowed drastic changes. By the turn of the century, the Times’ paid circulation couldn’t reach one million.

Change (not help) was on the way. When the Tribune took over, they appointed John Carroll, former editor of the Baltimore Sun. He cut over 200 jobs but was let go in 2005 by the unsatisfied Tribune executives. Dean Baquet replaced Carroll, becoming the first black to hold such a high profile position, but his tenure was short-lived. After several budget battles with the Tribune ownership, him and publisher Jeff Johnson were fired for publicly refusing to keep cutting jobs.

The editor position was taken by another former Tribune member. Jim O’Shea was brought in and asked to continue the round of layoffs. However, O’Shea struggled to bring the numbers down further (the editorial staff has been reduced from 1,200 to 900), and upon refusing to comply with $4 million worth of budget cuts, he was fired.

The instability shown in the ranks of one of the most popular print newspapers in the world marks the reality of 21st century media.

With more and more people making the switch to television and online (even blogs) sources, the Los Angeles Times and about every other print newspaper has dealt with shrinking profits and struggled to turn the tides.

Budgets cuts that affect the quality of the product are not the solution to the present problem. The Tribune Co. should look to improve its advertising revenues or even the quality of the product itself, a move that will attract a larger readership.

The Lariat believes that an editor should not be fired for refusing to make a decision that would compromise the paper’s quality. Jim O’Shea’s ability to do his job was not being questioned here, and although he refused to comply with executive orders, his job is to ensure that the paper prints worthy and accurate information. After all, that’s the primary job of a newspaper.

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