The Incredible Shrinking Paper

Posted on July 30, 2011 by

A crazy owner and inept management are destroying a critically important  Southern California institution.  And I’m not talking about the Dodgers. 

Recent layoffs of veteran writers at the L.A. Times are not just symptoms of a declining newspaper business.  The once-powerful daily has been run into the ground by Tribune Company’s Sam Zell, a corporate rapist who acquired the property from the Chandlers by raiding employee pension assets. 

The below-standard L.A. Times online version lets civic-minded residents keep track of regional affairs, while showcasing a few top-notch local journalists.  But with the firing of 39-year reporter / editor / columnist Tim Rutten and other seasoned writers, the Times has plunged deeper into the abyss. 

When I got to town 30 years ago, the L.A. Times influence was extraordinary.  As a PR guy, I learned that getting coverage in that paper set up the whole news cycle.  I watched as the Times singlehandedly tore down powerful local figures (remember former L.A. Coroner Thomas Noguchi)? 

Now L.A. Times investigations barely matter (did anyone read the recent five-part “expose´” on the Community College District construction program)? 

There’s talk about Tribune trying to unload the Times-Mirror Square building and of operational mergers with the Orange County Register

But it looks as if this century-old powerhouse – which began as a virulent anti-union, jingoistic rag and was transformed into a nationally-recognized metropolitan daily – is now suffering its worst indignity: 


Comments (8)


  1. I wonder how many laid off Times workers now wish they’d unionized with Local 69 of The Newspaper Guild way back when???

    Jan Tucker, former First VP, Local 69

    • As a former member of the Newspaper Guild at the NYTimes in the 1960s, I raised the issue as a writer for the LATimes in the 1980s at a staff meeting there concerning a cut in medical benefits, and was shouted down, and later shunned. Even back then you could sense the sheep being led to (eventual) slaughter.

  2. Don Keefer says:

    “Corporate rapist” is right! (and good, vigorous prose: “‘Perhaps’ be damned: Assertion is the Alpha & Omega of prose style – GB Shaw)…Zell also is “slumlord” (notorious for evicting people from low income housing, and using platoons of lawyers to overturn local rent control ordinances, especially in Chicago), vain Harley-riding fraud (the paper was probably “fraudulently conveyed,” according to a recent court finding, meaning Zell’s deal could never keep it viable), and right wing activist (you could see the writing on the wall when he fired the brilliant Robert Scherer, who was right about the Iraq War and other Bush era abuses, and replacing him with the dreaded, always-wrong neocon columnist Jonah Goldberg (don’t know it to be true for a fact, but dollars-to-doughnuts, I bet Jonah G. probably is nepotistically related, one way or another, to former Editorial Page director Nicholas Goldberg)… Zell even ordered “Doonesbury” removed from its very prominent position on the outside of the Sunday editions to something hidden in the classifieds …”Scumbag” pretty much sums Zell up — And you’re right: in the process, he’s driven one of the world’s great, Pulitzer Prize winning papers right into the ground.

  3. Cherri Senders says:

    Firing the venerable Tim Rutten is ruinous and really unforgivable. What is the LAT thinking? Have they no shame?

  4. Answering Lou Siegel’s call for a comment concerning the irrelevance of the LATimes: I look back with sadness but not surprise, both happy and lucky I left when I did 20 years ago. In the interim we note the situation there went from bad to worse, as the shifting media market laid bare the institution’s inherent base arrogance and ignorance. But there has to be an element of retribution for all involved in the demisel.

  5. Marty says:

    To bring just a BIT of even-handedness to the conversation: I worked at The Times part-time while I was editor of the UCLA Daily Bruin and attending school. I’ve subscribed for nearly 50 years. As someone who’s sat on both sides of the desk (journalism/PR), I agree with all the comments…but like it or not, the paper DOES still matter. Just ask Robert Rizzo et al from the City of Bell. Everything you have all written is true…but consigning the paper to the trash bin of total irrelevance is a bit over the top I think.

  6. deborah says:

    The one word that bothered me was “irrelevance”. Everything else fits. The business of raping a newspaper
    by its very owner is relevant. The history of this once full-bodied journal is relevant and making its obvious demise an
    important issue in our city is more than relevant.

  7. Howell says:

    Oh my gosh where to start?

    Relevance? The Times has been irrelevant for decades: it abandoned local news becuase it was ashamed of it. Hence METRO went CALIFORNIA and is now LA EXTRA, meaning one or two local stories on a police chase and a lot of ads and opinion. Obits too no less.

    The Times treated LAUSD with kid gloves for years, whereas it should have been hitting hard at the waste, incompetence etc. It seems to have given Villaraigosa a pass. It knows more about Bell than LA.

    Absent local news, the Times was merely another source for AP wirestories, Food articles and tedious stories about camel drivers in Punjib. Big deal.

    Its few forays into California news only highlight its failure to do so constantly.

    The one story on the Calif Nurses Board was partnered with another investigative group: the Times was essentially just the ink for the story.

    The news on Bell–well gee, where had the Times been while this had been going on? Oh yes–running the incessant and inane opinions of a fleet of “commentators” like Banks, Skelton, Rutten et al.

    In touch? The Times opposed the fomer Governor’s Propositions to limit state spending in 2005–nice move LA Times. It looks so –knowledgable now. The Times opposed 3 strikes, Prop 13, and a billionaire for governor, giving us a 2d term with Brown and his union guys instead. Its campaign coverage focused on a maid’s allegations, and rather missed in depth pieces on the ultimate cost of green power inititives, pensions and more.

    And you all wonder why readership declined? Then there was the 2006 op ed on July 4th by a man who took time out to slam the US and its founders.

    I trust it felt good in the Times Mirror building. It cost you a bundle of readers, including me, for whom it was the last straw (no, I don’t like a newspaper to insult me: at least the New York Times still has some news).

    The firing of Tim Rutten was way overdue: with respect, he was an tired and tedious old gasbag who had knowledge of nothing, who hectored the readers with uninformed opinions and was a classic example of what the Times became in the last 30 years. The city budget? he thought LA should simply spend more. He couldn’t even do a book review without being caught quoting things that were not in the book!

    The Times could have kept up readership by having Kay on LA or Jill Stewart run a story once a week! Or by requiring someone to go investigate a story –a real story! instead of parroting press releases and dispensing pomposity.

    So Zell–doubtless an unsavory old crab–buys this loser newspaper that had let go all its reporters, abandoned local news (shred move for a newspaper), larded itself with gasbags like Rutten–and now its all his fault? Zell may be a short-sighted penny pincher, but the Times killed itself. All the know it alls, the editorialists who forgot why people buy newspapers–you did it!

    You cost LA a real newspaper.

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