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Just Like the Manhattan Project, Except for That Whole Saving-the-Free-World Thing

October 12, 2006 |  2:36 pm

The New York Times reports today that the braintrust of the L.A. Times

is dedicating three investigative reporters and half a dozen editors to find ideas, at home and abroad, for re-engaging the reader, both in print and online. The newspaper's editor, Dean Baquet, and its new publisher, David Hiller, plan to convene a meeting today to start the effort, which is being called the Manhattan Project. A report is expected in about two months.

Nitpickers might notice some subtle differences from the actual Manhattan Project -- instead of four years, this'll take two months; instead of legendary airtight secrecy this was announced in the New York Times before the first meeting -- but the important thing is that there'll be some kind of fiery explosion at the end.

We kid! How about some local reaction, then?

Mack Reed of LaVoice.org says "Good instinct, good goals, and good action."

Just not sure why it would take two months to figure out they can engage their readers by covering Los Angeles better and maybe doing some real investigative work in Hollywood

Italics his. Former Timesman Ed Padgett seems to like it, and adds:

I say take it a big step further by having all Times employees involved in increasing our circulation.

Another former Timesman, Ken Reich, reckons that:

this cannot be done, in my view, without some willingness on the part of Tribune Co., the present unimaginative owners, to spend some money on the improvements. And to pay for a marketing campaign to publicize them.

Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News says:

It's a great idea, and so we hope they get it right. My biggest concern is that they will focus too much on the print edition, and not enough on the Web.

Meanwhile, the helpful tipsters over at The Free Republic have a bounty of advice, including this from "abb":

1. Assign competitive teams to cover each area of the city. Cover those areas as if each were small towns (which, in a way, they are.) Find positive stories and human interest stories and print them, not just crime reports. Include pictures. People will start to buy a paper if they recognize their neighbors in it, or if their kids get a mention for their participation in Community Service or sports or something.

2. Make a true, concerted effort to make your reporting impartial. Political viewpoints should go to the editorial and op ed pages.

3. Find a non-partisan cause to support...cleaing up litter, Boys and Girls Clubs, tree-planting, etc. and get the community involved. Devote your efforts to this cause instead of constant snarky comments about Republicans.

4. Require all reporters to spend 2 weeks each year riding with a cop, working construction, following a small businessman around, etc. They need a dose of the real world. Better yet...require all reporters to take their vacations in small Midwestern towns. In the winter.

What should the 21st century Manhattan Project produce? Please leave suggestions in the comments. To see what a bunch of grumpy journalists think, click here.

UPDATE: Reaction to the 21st century Oppenheimers keeps coming in. New Media guy Jeff Jarvis:

I wish them luck, but I fear they are off on the wrong if predictable foot: namely, preserving print and the past. [...]

I find it surprising that I find nothing under "Manhattan Project" or its boss' name at the LA Times. I'd think the first, best thing to do is to get the ideas from your public.

Venice-based syndicated advice columnist Amy Alkon:

Perhaps I should send Marc Duvoisin my column samples. I mean, if they aren't pulling 'em in in droves with Al Martinez and Howard Leff.

Make sure to read the comments! Thomas Kelley over at California Connected:

from this reporter's vantage point, the LA Times would do well to also match the Web innovations of their Manhattan-based competitor, The New York Times. With an easy-to-use, uncluttered Web site, The New York Times delivers a seamless and engaging multimedia experience.

In contrast, despite producing a worldclass video series on ocean pollution, the LA Times failed to promote it properly on its own Web site. I have spoken to no one, including journalists and journalism professors, who have seen it. If the same series had appeared on the NY Times' interface, it would have created a much bigger buzz.

Boston media critic extraordinnaire Dan Kennedy:

Visions of nuclear armaggedon aside, the "Los Angeles Project" would definitely be a more promising name.

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