The Times as we knew it is already dead
I'll try to keep this short as today's topic is whether or not reports of the death of the Los Angeles Times are premature.
The answer is obvious. The Times, at least as we once knew it, is not only dead, but already in a state of rapid decomposition. Its owner has become its undertaker.
Even with the lightning speed of the 'Net, we can't keep up with the pace of decay. In the mere five days since you and I began this public dialogue, we've seen the folding of at least two sections of the paper, the imminent shredding of two more, the departure of more prize-winning investigative reporters to a nonprofit website, the publication of one more aberrant "innovation" memo from management that seems written under the influence of a hallucinogen and renewed vows to keep the corporate editorial guillotine well-oiled and functioning on overtime.
And that's just what is public. In the meantime, my e-mail inbox has filled with missives from desperate and despondent Times staffers that read like that embossed call for help on the tummy of that poor bile-spewing child in "The Exorcist." (Do you think someone could entice Cardinal Roger Mahony to perform his civic duty by trying to banish the demons who have possessed the corner of 1st and Spring?)
It didn't have to be this way. There was a moment, not too many years ago as a matter of fact, when The Times threatened to compete with the New York Times as the crown jewel of newspapers. But management not only misjudged the power of the Web, it also underestimated its own sophisticated readership.
A conscious decision was made somewhere along the line to be only second-best, to not take the risk for greatness and to settle for being a fat, comfortable, suburban paper that reads like it should be delivered every morning accompanied a mocha latte, a croissant and a Kenny G CD.
So goodbye to greatness. Any hope of meaningful resurrection? Or is the soul of The Times condemned to wallow in an eternal and greatly reduced, perhaps even marginal, purgatory? The complete answer is way above my pay grade, thank you very much. But there seems to a few prerequisites if The Times wishes to recover any shadow of its shriveling authority:
* Get rid of Tribune Co. Chief Executive Sam Zell. The times (lower case) demand an adventurous, bold visionary at the corporate helm who can imagine something -- anything -- other than just the bottom line. You know, like a commitment to civic duty, a passion for news, a desire to re-invent and improve journalism -- not part it out to the junk yard.
* Get used to the idea that your audience is at least as smart as you are. And stop patronizing them. Diversity doesn't mean covering "communities of color" and reporting on them as exotic species. All those Armenians, Mexicans, Koreans and Cambodians aren't just your readers' neighbors. They might actually be your readers -- if you found a meaningful way to address them.
* The people of Los Angeles aren't lobotomized provincial plops. The Times needs to be smarted-up, not dumbed-down and trashed like the disfigurement just imposed on the Orlando Sentinel by the Zellites. We hardly need a 1,000-person newsroom to crank out mental cotton candy. Invest more in reporting, not less.
Good night, Patrick. And good luck.
Marc Cooper is associate director of the Institute for Justice and Journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. He writes a politics column for L.A. Weekly and serves as editorial coordinator of the Huffington Post's Off the Bus. He blogs daily at marccooper.com.
The Times won't be missed