When the arrangement was reported in a local alternative newspaper and then the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, it created a firestorm of protest within the Times newsroom.
To maintain Shaw's editorial independence, he and Parks agreed that the report would not be seen before publication by Parks, Downing or Willes, who still held the posts of chief executive and chairman of Times Mirror Co. Times Mirror owned the Times until Tribune Co. purchased the company in 2000.
The report was edited by George Cotliar, a retired managing editor of the paper widely admired for his integrity.
After a six-week investigation, Shaw found that the breakdown of the traditional wall between the editorial and business sides of the newspaper — a change championed by Willes — had desensitized some top editors and managers to ethical problems.
Shaw was also highly critical of Downing and Parks for their handling of the situation.
His report was published in a special section Dec. 20, 1999. It covered 14 pages and included two accompanying articles, one a basic explanation of why journalism is different from other businesses.
"David had complete control of what he wrote," Cotliar recalled recently. "Working with him day to day, I was terribly impressed. He was the consummate reporter and extremely careful."
Shaw's opus was generally credited with helping to quiet the storm of criticism from journalists within the paper and throughout the industry. It also helped subscribers regain their faith in The Times.
"That piece of work helped save the L.A. Times," Rosenstiel said, "because it demonstrated to people in Los Angeles that this paper would investigate itself."
The son of a photoengraver, Shaw was born Jan. 4, 1943, in Dayton, Ohio. His family moved to Southern California when he was 3 and settled in Compton.
Shaw began writing for the Compton High School newspaper. After graduating, he enrolled at Pepperdine University but transferred after two years to UCLA, where he earned his bachelor's degree in English in 1965.
While at UCLA, he began working as a reporter for the Huntington Park Signal. Three years later he moved on to the Long Beach Independent. At the Independent, he won notice for a five-part series he wrote in 1968 about Max Rafferty, a Republican who was running for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Alan Cranston.
During the campaign, Rafferty was critical of the country's youth, denouncing what he saw as a decline in patriotism as opposition to the Vietnam War was steadily increasing.
Shaw pointed out that Rafferty himself had been less than eager to serve his country during World War II after being classified 1A: fit for military service. Rafferty, Shaw reported, twice appealed the classification and was reclassified 4F — physically, mentally or morally unfit for service — because of what Rafferty said was a case of "flat feet."
"The standing joke in the town," Shaw wrote referring to the Mojave Desert community of Trona where Rafferty spent much of the war years as a teacher, "is still 'Max Rafferty celebrated V-J Day by throwing his cane away.' "
Shaw's series was credited with striking a sharp blow to the Rafferty campaign. Cranston went on to win the election and serve 24 years in the Senate.
Shaw joined The Times not long after the Rafferty series ran. For his first six years at the paper, he offered in-depth pieces on an array of subjects, including gambling, teenage drug use, black militancy, court reform, crime and football.
That changed when Thomas called him into his office in 1974 and said he wanted Shaw to take on a new assignment: covering the media, including The Times.