Sunday, November 12, 2006

Rescue Me!

The other big media story here in Southern California has to do with how The Los Angeles Times is playing the role of damsel in distress while a covert bidding war between dueling billionaires may be going on to rescue the paper from the clutches of Chicago's Tribune organization.

I'm hardly an unbiased person, as a long-time LA Times loyalist and Southern California native who grew up with the kids of those who owned, published, edited, and wrote for the Times during its heyday. I loved the extravagant length of the articles and the baroque prose styles of some of its better known columnists (like sports legend Jim Murray). Unfortunately, those days are long gone. First came the faster-format Times in 1989. Circulation dropped still further as the price of a newsstand copy doubled, and advertisers were given more influence over the journalistic copy. In 2000 the Tribune bought the Times, and the situation deteriorated rapidly as the LA staff was butchered. In 2005 the paper tried to exploit the digital possibilities for user-generated content in its disastrous "wikitorials" experiment; then last month they redesigned their front page and jettisoned their traditional fonts. The number of editors who have quit or have been fired for crossing Chicago continues to climb.

Now both David Geffen and Eli Broad are vying to purchase the paper to save it from its out-of-town management. Geffen is a familiar name, but East Coasters may not know Broad. He's reviled on our block for covering the local landscape with ugly cookie-cutter housing developments. (This tendency toward ex-urban sprawl that encourages extreme commuting and subverts genuine community building is well recorded in Jenny Cool's documentary "Home Economics.") We also don't like the way he's dominated the arts and culture scene here and funded only the most kitschy art and opera so that the stereotype of how shallow LA wants TV directors like Garry Marshall to stage operas and Jeff Koons to fill art museums just gets more reinforcement. But if it means that the Times will be a-changing back to local hands, I guess even we'll be grateful, although I still think the culture around print has changed so fundamentally that it is unlikely that our children will be subscribers.

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