Jim Newton: the Opinion L.A. chat

Moderator1: Hi everybody. This is Tim Cavanaugh. We’ve got Jim Newton for the hour.

Jim Newton: Hi everyone. Looking forward to your questions.

insanity: I feel your opinion section is very disorganized. Articles headings are repeated within the page. Also, there needs to be a section for local politics, and more emphasis on local politics. That would include issues such as traffic, development, local politicians, etc, which really are not addressed adequately in the LA Times opinion section.

Jim Newton: I’m not sure I agree with you regarding our design and organization, which I generally find appealing, though with some room for improvement. As to local politics, I agree that we can be doing more, and we will be. As you may know, that’s my background, and I’m happy to be able to bring some of that to these pages.

joseph mailander: hello, room

brady westwater: First, welcome to the Dark Side of the paper from the newsroom!

Jim Newton: Hi Brady, nice to be with you in this forum.

lausdparents: I was wondering if you HAD a darkside there...

TrojanFan: Hi Mr. Newton: Obviously editorial writing requires a certain amount of experience in journalism, but has the Times ever considered courting younger writers to appeal to the under 30s crowd? I’m 22 and a loyal op-ed reader, but I feel like there is no one I can relate to on the Times’ pages.

lausdparents: appreciate this opportunity.

Jim Newton: Dear TrojanFan, The answer is yes, we are very much in search of ways to write for younger readers. Sometimes that may be by recruiting younger writers; other times, it’s by broader and thoughtful story selection. We’d welcome your suggestions.

cag4: Hey Jim,First off: Congratulations on the new position, you are a great choice and I’m eager to see what you do with the editorial/op-ed portion of the Times.Second: Your bio fails to mention that you’ve recently completed the difinitive biography of Chief Justice Earl Warren, a fabulous book that even non-Court junkies (like me) will find hard to put down.Third: I’d love to hear your plans for the Editorial/Op-ed section... I read the NYTimes editorial section daily and feel strongly that there is an opportunity to create something equivalent with a left-coast bent, although a national reach, particular with topic areas like the environment, entertainment, urban/suburban life, etc.ThanksCharles Gillespie in San Diego

Jim Newton: Dear CAG4, Thank you for your kind note, especially regarding my book. Regarding my plans for Editorial and Op-Ed, they’re frankly still forming. I’d like us to convey the sense that we are taking stock of the world, day in and day out, from the perspective of Southern California. That may mean a slightly richer mix of local material, but more importantly a feeling that we’re putting these pages together here and looking out at the world from the vantage point of LA.

joseph mailander: Does it help or hurt the paper when people at the Times forward Times’ emails to bloggers “outside the tent”?

Jim Newton: Dear Mr. Mailander, Well, I’m hardly one to complain about leaks or free speech, so I’m inclined to say that The Times benefits by being part of a wide-open media environment. It isn’t always easy, though.

brady westwater: To begin with I am one of the few who thinks the LA TImes is - finally - moving in the right direction when it comes to be a Los Angeles paper. I also think the editorial page is the best written editorial page in the country, even when I disagree with it. But...

brady westwater: The op-ed page stillhas too many columns that belong in oher parts of the paper, too many columns that simply are not of interest to the readers of the paper. So I , too, would like to know what changes you propose.

TrojanFan: Agreed, Brady. I love Joel Stein to death, but 99 percent of the time it’s not an op-ed column

Jim Newton: Dear Brady, I can promise you that we’re thinking about all of that. It’s worth remembering that our readership is very broad, so what’s of interest to some readers is frankly uninteresting to others. That said, we’re always examining the mix, and I’m open to changing it.

insanity: No disrespect, Mr. Newton, but the opinion page is redundant. For example, today the same article is featured twice online as “Bush’s dead-end presidency” and “Dead-ender presidency.” The overall layout is very poor.

Moderator1: We’re working on that, insanity. The web site is pretty kludgy, everybody agrees, but it’s a big project to get all this stuff ironed out. Meanwhile is a pretty useful one-stop

joseph mailander: Wehn people move from news to op-ed, they’re usually shocked, no matter how seasoned they are, to learn the sincere level of vitriol they receive at op-ed. Are you ready for A-level rage?

scareduck: insanity -- add to that list having Max Boot and Jonah Goldberg on the same pages...

insanity: Also, Jonah Goldberg writes very low quality essays, and I agree Stein belongs in an entertainment section most of the time.

brady westwater: Don’t you mean - ‘F’ level rage?

Jim Newton: Dear Mr. Mailander, I’ve had some pretty sharp vitriol directed my way over the years -- you don’t cover the LAPD without a bit of that -- so I think I’m ready for your best. Bring it on.

Newton: Hi Jim, I would like to hear your assessment of morale at the LA Times given the recent purchase of the Tribune Corp. Barbara

Jim Newton: Dear, uh, Newton, Morale has frankly been better, what with the changes in ownership and buyouts and uncertainty about the future. That said, this is a professional place, and one that’s been through an awful lot in my 17 years here. We’ll get through this.

lausdparents: Mr. Newton - didn’t you write about the promise of a Mayoral role in public schools a decade ago - and from Detroit - which has since moved back to an elected school board?

brady westwater: I don’t think Detroit can be held up as an example as how to do anything.

Jim Newton: Dear lausdparents: Are you asking whether I wrote from Detroit? If so, no. But I do know the paper has looked at mayoral control in other cities and the experiences in places such as Boston and New York.

joseph mailander: Do you see any correlation in your paper’s six-year decline in print subscriptions and the fact that LA’s Catholic population in City and region is the fastest-growing identity segment?

lausdparents: Speak to parents in N.Y. - the Mayor isn’t doing any better there.

Jim Newton: Dear Mr. Mailander: To be honest, I haven’t given much thought to the relationship between print circulation and the growth in the Catholic population.

scareduck: It’s the Papists, I tells ya! They’re in cahoots with the Freemasons, and the gay Martians!

Jeff: There are many citizens who differ with the paper’s immigration stances. Do they deserve to have their views represented in the opinion section? Do readers and citizens deserve an open debate on the issue where they can actually compare arguments side by side? I thought the dust up between Tamar Jacoby and Mark Kirkorian was in this spirit. But am I correct in thinking that it wasn’t a printed exchange?

Walter Moore: To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, the paper’s opinion pieces run the gamut from A to B.

Jim Newton: Dear Jeff: In my time as a reporter, editor and bureau chief at the paper, few issues aroused more passionate reader response than immigration. Yes, we have a responsibility to present all views on that issue, in the opinion pages as well as in news. You’re right, too, that the dust-up was an informative and spirited one, and though it didn’t appear in the paper, we’re happy it did on our Opinion site.

joseph mailander: (Thanks, scareduck. you have no idea how bigoted you come off). Jim, did you think a decade ago that Cardinal Mahony not granting Mayor Riordan communion (for marrying someone without an annulment) was newsworthy?

Jim Newton: Dear Mr. Mailander: Not only did I think it was newsworthy, I think I may have written the story.

cag4: What do you see as the current strengths of the editorial section... the things you’d like to build on?

Jim Newton: Dear CAG4: I think we regularly present thoughtful, well-written editorials, careful not to lurch too abruptly in any direction but also subject to subtle evolution over time. In Op-Ed, I admire the breadth of intelligence that we regularly feature, both during the week and on weekends. That’s a strong base to build from.

brady westwater: Speaking of what appears in the paper’s printed opinion columns - do you feel clearly unfactual statements should be corrected for the public recrod? And what would be the process to do that?

Jim Newton: Dear Brady: Hmmm, I feel a trap being laid... Still, I’ll bite: Yes, we should correct all errors of fact.

scareduck: Walter -- I was actually going to say that I thought the paper’s editorial stance had lurched to about Q or R on the right, and maybe E on the left-hand side of the alphabet. After all we no longer have Sherry Bebitch Jeffe (sp?) as a regular contributor...

insanity: Los Angeles as a city, has a real problem with oversight.

insanity: Los Angeles has a very decentralized government, and there is very poor civic planning going on. Developers dictate the future of the city. The LA Times has a responsibility to the people of the city to allow the people a voice. This has obviously not been the case.

Jim Newton: Dear Insanity: I agree wholeheartedly that we have a responsibility to air views, including those that challenge the development community. I’m not aware that we have shut anyone out, but, if so, consider that door open.

Moderator1: Here’s Brady’s trap!

brady westwater: As an example - a piece Sunday said the Plaza in LA was purely secular for 40 years - when there was a chapel on it for almost all of that time.

Walter Moore: Using titles like “philanthropist Eli Broad” and “economist Jack Keyser” is part of that problem.

Jim Newton: Dear Brady: If you’ll point me to the place in the piece where we said that, I will happily check it out this afternoon.

Moderator1: Here’s a question from the mail, from Prof. Sidney Morse:

Moderator1: Hold on, here’s reply to Walter instead:

Jim Newton: Dear Mr. Moore: I agree that sometimes we adopt shorthand that does not fully do justice to our subjects. We’ll be on guard for it, and the examples you cite are good ones.

joseph mailander: Where were you on coverage of ambulance-chaser Ray Boucher ramming the extension of the Stat of Lims on pedophilia through the State Legislature? Did you write that story too?

Walter Moore: Jim -- I’ve got to run -- I’ve got bad guys to sue -- but before I go let me ask that you take a look at the issues I write about at my blog,, and sign up for my e-mail list. That will give you a regular dose of this town’s “loyal opposition” when it comes to developers gone wild, illegal aliens, rent control, etc. Thanks to you and Matt for the opportunity to meet, if only as disembodied words on a page.

Jim Newton: Dear Mr. Moore: I look forward to reading your blog and thank you for participating today.

brady westwater: What I feel the Op-ed section lacks is any exchange of ideas on how to fix the problems of Los Angeles - particularly in ways that go beyond the left/right dialogue within the Times too often frames issues.

brady westwater: And then there is the complete lack of follow up on thes issues.

brady westwater: Where are the radical pragmatists?

Walter Moore: Calling Keyser an economist makes my blood boil. Think back to the Quayle VP debates -- I know economists. Economists are friends of mine. You, Mr. Keyser, are no economist! Thanks again and REALLY bye this time, and call me “Walter.” But please don’t call me “dear” anymore...

Jim Newton: Dear Brady: I don’t think we lack all such exchanges, but I’m sure we can do more of it and better.

Tony: Hola Jim, Congratulations on the new job. Sounds like Moyers is about to take some shots at American journalists(?) tonight. Any comment?

Jim Newton: Tony: I’m not sure what you’re referring to...

Moderator1: Here’s a reference from these newfangled interwebs:

Moderator1: “Tomorrow, PBS will broadcast a documentary by committed leftist Bill Moyers that charges the American media, especially the conservative media, gleefully embraced war with Iraq and smeared anyone who disagreed with the action.”

Tony: Moyers is returning to PBS with the first of about 18 programs -- this one examines the role of the media/press in the leadup to March 2003.

insanity: Tony is referring to Moyers PBS special tonight

Jim Newton: Dear Tony: Sounds like a helluva series. My only comment, having not seen it yet, is that I’m looking forward to it, and thank you for calling my attention to it.

scareduck: Getting back to actual questions about the editorial pages, what I’d like to know is why somebody like Glenn Greenwald isn’t doing occaisional pieces. He’s a thoughtful, serious writer who would be a real antidote to Max Boot and Jonah Goldberg. Any chance of that happening?

Jim Newton: Dear Scareduck: I’m not ready to start making adjustments in our columnist lineup until I’ve had a chance to study up on it. So, is there a chance of bringing someone like Greenwald to our pages? Absolutely. But I’m not ready to say yet that we will.

Michael: Hi Jim, Does the Op-Ed page cover local issues NOT covered in your California section? For instance, there’s a controversy over the Runkle Canyon development project in Simi Valley, dutifully ignored by News, that estimates say will launch 100+ tons of radioactive dust in the air, much of which will float into the West Valley. Even WITHOUT news coverage on an issue like this, would Op-Ed run a piece on it?

Jim Newton: Dear Michael: Yes, we are certainly open to pieces on subjects outside our news coverage. We obviously benefit here by being part of a great news organization with international reach, but our opinion pages are run separately from our news operations, and we are not confined by what news chooses to cover.

insanity: Here are some topics that have not been addressed in the editorials: Development of the VA land, Why the gold line does not reach the airport, Public works conditions (for example the streets in Westwood where I live are disintegrating), Development of Playa Vista, etc. The newspaper needs to air opinions and take some stands for the good of the City.

Jim Newton: Dear Insanity: For what it’s worth, we were just discussing the other day one of the issues you mention -- the reach of the gold/green line to the airport -- and will continue to do so. I couldn’t agree more about our job in airing opinions, whether or not we agree with them, and in standing up for the good of the city.

brady westwater: These are exactly thte types of issues that should be addressed from a pragamatic POV by writers with differing poits of view suggesting specfic solutions.

Jeff: Any chance you might bring back the wikitorial, but with both appropriate moderation to stop scofflaws and different version organized according to partcipants sharing a similar point of view, trying to find consenus arguments?

brady westwater: God - no!

brady westwater: Debate yes - total chaos no.

Jim Newton: Dear Jeff: We are very much engaged in trying to explore new ways of communicating with readers -- with opening ourselves to greater dialouge and expanding on what we can do in print, where space confines us. That said, the Wikitorial was an experiment that did not go well, so I suspect we’ll try other ideas before we go down that path again.

lausdparents: How about encouraging an op-ed piece on the recent Evergreen Solutions report on LAUSD? They just paid $350,000 to learn (and ignore) what parents and parent advocates have been saying for years.

brady westwater: Isn’t that the purpose of all reports and studies?

Jim Newton: Dear LAUSDPARENTS: I’d love to read such a piece. You want to write one and submit it? If so, just email it to me and/or to our Op-Ed editor, Nick Goldberg. We’d be pleased to take a look.

insanity: Jonah Goldberg is a disgrace. His latest column discusses how uniformed the American public is, and then uses it to discredit “2/3 of Americans who believe Gonzalez

insanity: ‘s actions were politically motivated. Please

insanity: Continuing on Jonah Goldberg - after reading one of his columns I vowed never to read the LAT editorial section and I went ahead and joined NY Times select to support them financially. It is not Goldberg’s right wing opinions, but the inanity of his columns which stands out.

Moderator1: Insanity, Jonah took plenty of knocks when he was in here a few weeks ago. And he’s still standin’!

Moderator1: OK, HERE’s the professor’s question:

Moderator1: Under your leadership, can we expect more diversity in the op-ed pages of the Los Angeles Times? Over the years, there has been a dearth of diversity not reflective of a newspaper in the second largest media market in the country.

brady westwater: Phrased as only a professor could...

Jim Newton: Dear Professor: This paper has not always fulfilled its mission when it comes to diversity, and we do need to do better. These pages are no exception, and I’ll do what I can to address that -- in terms of ethnic and gender representation and also in terms of diversity of opinion.

Jeff: What does the professor mean by diversity? Is it the university/ASNE definition?

Moderator1: Another one from the mail:

Moderator1: Best governor of California in your lifetime. Best L.A. mayor.

Jim Newton: Best governor is easy: Earl Warren. Best mayor is harder, but it’s hard not to pick Tom Bradley.

Michael: Jim, do you folks prefer Op-Ed pitches by professional journalists or the finished 800-word piece itself?

TrojanFan: Should have seen that Earl Warren answer coming

Jim Newton: Dear Michael: One thing I’ve learned quickly in my short time on this job is how inundated we are by submissions. That makes it hard to field pitches, too, so my impression is that our Op-Ed folks prefer completed pieces.

insanity: I would like to see a specific column, or area on the website devoted to Los Angeles city issues each day.

brady westwater: Eveb htough insanity is clearly... insane... that is one thing we agree upon.

Jim Newton: Dear Insanity: I’m not inclined to reserve a space every day for that, but I do believe that our pages should consistently address those issues. I’ve only been doing this a little over a week, but so far, I think we’re putting up a good record in that regard.

joseph mailander: Your local coverage today has an article about anti-Semitism on a college campus. When was the last time you had an article on anti-Catholicism on a college campus? Or does the paper since 2002 just print priest molestation articles?

Jim Newton: Dear Mr. Mailander: I assume your second question is not meant to be taken seriously, but just in case: No, we don’t just print molestation pieces. As for your other point, I don’t know when the last time we wrote about anti-Catholicism was.

Ben S.: Hi Jim, I think I worked with you briefly back in the San gabriel Valley bureau days (Jesse Katz, Denise Hamilton, Mary Heffron, Lenny Laguire, etc.) Anyhow, congratulations. Now, here’s my question for this forum: Jeff Dietrich at the L.A. Catholic Worker, used to be good for a column or two a year in the L.A. Times Opinion section. LACW runs the Hippie Kitchen on Skid Row since about 1973. He’s a guy who after a life of working on the homeless issue (now very hot on the Times’ pages) has more or less opted out of working with the system (police, mayor, city council, etc) Would love to see a column from him on why. If I could get him to reach out to you, would you be willing to give him a listen?

Jim Newton: Dear Ben: I don’t think we worked together in San Gabriel, since I came in through the Orange County Edition. Still, thanks for your note, and yes, I’d be happy to read Dietrich’s work. Send him our way.

insanity: Another suggestion. Use local bloggers to keep your opinion section informed. As an example, the LAT has terrible coverage of UCLA basketball. They would do well to use bloggers and UCLA website writers to inform their articles.

brady westwater: UCLA has a basket ball team?

Ben S.: Thanks Jim.

Jim Newton: Dear Insanty: I don’t know about our UCLA basketball coverage, but I’m all for following the work of bloggers.

Moderator1: From the mail: How different is L.A. since you began working at the L.A. Times? How different is the L.A. Times?

Jim Newton: Funny you should ask about the changes in LA. We’ve been talking here this week about the 15th anniversary of the riots, and that has given lots of room for reflection on changes in the city. Short answer: LA today feels calmer, safer and more positive than it did when I first arrived at the paper. And the paper itself, well, that’s a long conversation, too, but I’d say that it’s more ambitious in many ways but also severely tested in others.

Moderator1: Jeff has a series of questions (some related to the Jacoby/Krikorian debate) that relate to how you get more opinions in, and the constraints of print and ether...

Jeff: I’m unhappy that it faced such a limited audience when position generally aligned with the paper get much wider circulation. If you are committed to an open debate, I would like to see evidence of it.

Jeff: That would be a debate. But not between those who are hopelessly in opposition in their worldviews. It saw that as a obvious flaw to the first effort.

Jeff: Have you considered seeking opposing opinions to print next to the paper’s opionions as USA Today often does?

Jim Newton: Dear Jeff: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a debate between people who are opposed in their worldviews. I like the idea of setting up debates on our pages and will look into what we can do there.

Moderator1: One more...

Michael: Jim, aside from the “pitches” coming in here (of which I sorta suggested one), much of this has been about what you’d like to see. What do you NOT want to see in your Op-Ed pages and why?

brady westwater: Joel Stein. ANd do I need to say why?

Jim Newton: Dear Michael: I would like us to be a forum for the spirited, constructive exchange of views, but not to descend into bitterness or recrimination. The tone that has dominated this past hour, in fact, nicely approximates what I’d like to see more of.

Moderator1: That’s a wrap. Thanks Jim and everybody for coming out.

Jeff: Thanks for the discussion. And thanks to the moderator for skillfully grouping my questions.

brady westwater: And thank you.

Michael: Thank you Jim and ROCK ON!

cag4: Thanks and good luck!

Ben S.: Thanks Jim

lausdparents: thanks

Jim Newton: I appreciate all your thoughts, and hope you will continue to engage us with your ideas. Please stay in touch with me, not just through forums such as this but directly as well. Thank you all.

Tony: Thanks, and watch out for those guerrilleros from Taxco!

Newton: Nice job! “Uh”, Newton

Moderator1: Over and out!