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

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.

 

Comments () | Archives (50)

The comments to this entry are closed.

joseph


Are you people crazy? This is pure TQM, not journalism. Even worse, it doesn't address the problem!

For the sake of the argument: in the following model, marketing is like marketing, product managers are like editors, and investigative reporters are like engineers.

In TQM, marketing asks clients and prospects what they want. Then try to get product managers to give it to them.

Then product managers weigh what has been found out about customers against what the company can actually build given its position and resources. Then engineers take their cues from product managers.

When product managers and engineers start taking cues directly from customers and prospects, nine times out of ten they run off a cliff and make products neither customers nor clients can stand.

Investigative reporters should be as
remote from this kind of marketing activity as possible, and their editors should only be tangentially involved with market research. Asking investigative reporters and editors instead of marketing to be part of market research and to take cues from readers is like the engineers who design the pistons at Chevy to ask drivers what the optimal displacement should be. If their managers buy in, they will give you monster, fetishized pistons in utterly undrivable cars.

~~~

The problem is not the scribes. The problems is, the Times doesn't have the gumption at the editorial level to piss off elites, so it just tries to piss off various segments of its readers. I predict that this kind of "market-driven journalism" will just piss off readers all the more, as the investigative reporters and editors find out first hand how insouciant and their (average age 55) readers are, and lose esteem for what they do for a living.

Here's what every customer wants: the hometown newspaper to take on elites. The Times track record: kid gloves on Meruelo. Kid gloves on Broad. Kid gloves on Frank Gehry. Kid gloves on Parke Skelton. Kid gloves on Mahony, kid gloves on Riordan, on Garcetti, and girls' kid gloves on Villaraigosa. But they went in tough against---the legacy of Cesar Chavez?

The Times really blinked at the criticism it got for taking on Schwarzenegger. But that was the right track. The "product lines" pulsing readers is the wrong one.

Brady Westwater

The concept is great - the execution is shall we say... somewhat flawed.

The concept is to find a way to get people who do not read the LA Times... to read the LA Times.

The execution, however, is to ask the writers and editors who are writing and editing a paper no one is reading what those same writers and editors should be writing and editing in the paper.

Now can anyone spot the flaw in that process?

Apparently, it did not occur to anyone that asking people why they do not read the Times and asking what would make them want to read the paper might be a better idea.

And even better idea might be to hold a day long charette where various groups can give their vision of what the Times should be just as is done with major civic projects Grand Avenue.

We should make the redesign of the LA Times a civic dialogue. And if the Times is seriously interested in engaging the citizens of Los Angeles, as Chair of the Los Angles Congress of Neighborhood Councils, I would be glad to invite all the NC's to meet with the redesigners of the 'new' LA Times in a forum about how our leading newspaper can better serve all the diverse communities of Los Angeles.

Edward Padgett

Why do I subscribe to LA Weekly, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times?

LA Weekly covers what I seek, live music and comedy. But, they add a twist with alternative reporting, and to fully understand an artcle I enjoy reading different views. And finding the latest edition of LA Weekly is almost impossible in the area (8th and Alameda)of Los Angeles that I work in, so I have it mailed to my home.

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune offers the news that is important to my neighbors and myself, the San Gabriel Valley. Usually only twenty-five to thirty page weekdays, it's rather easy to read in twenty minutes.

As a third generation Times employee, the Los Angeles Times has been a staple in every home I have lived in my entire life. As a reader of the Times I enjoy the editorial pages, and my ten year old grandson reads the sports section. The Thursday Weekend tabloid section is now a must read for myself, and anyone that enjoys live music.

I'm seeking out, from my co-workers, why they read the publications they subscribe to for answers I can share online. Hopefully this will generate other ideas for the future of the Los Angeles Times.

Dafydd ab Hugh

Dear Times;

I might be a good source of input, because I was a long-time subscriber to the L.A. Times (long-time = 16 years, or more than 30 years, if you count my parents' subscription when I was young)... but I canceled my subscription when I'd finally had enough.

As disclosure, I am not conservative, but I am anti-liberal and anti-left. But until about eight or nine years ago, I was able to read the Times without feeling insulted every five column inches.

The problem is not mere bias; every news source has a bias, whether they choose to admit it or not. What finally drove me away was being treated like a subliterate moron.

Example: you gave a book of free-market economics to Eric Hobsbawm to review; not surprisingly, he trashed it. But in your squib about the reviewer, you neglected to mention that Hobsbawm was a lifelong Communist -- I mean an actual member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. I got the distinct impression the editor of the review section was giggling at having put one over us readers.

Example: your "gropegate" hit piece on Arnold Schwarzenegger scant days before the 2003 recall election. Did you imagine readers wouldn't know that you had (as the paper admitted) sat on the accusations for months, just waiting for the most devastating moment to release it?

Example: an opinion piece by a resident of the city about the evils of capital punishment. The tag line at the bottom said only: "O.J. Simpson lives in Los Angeles." Don't you think his peculiar history was relevant to his opinions on capital punishment?

These are not isolated incidents; these examples are the everyday fodder of the Los Angeles Times, which really seems to have it in for the center-right and beyond -- and that's not even counting Robert Scheer's assaults on our intelligence. I mean in the actual news stories as well as reviews and opinion pieces.

The paper very frequently makes errors of fact in its actual news stories; but these errors invariably serve to denigrate the Right and authenticate the Left. It's like a restaurant that makes frequent mistakes in adding up the check... but always in the restaurant's favor.

I hope I'm being clear: you are bleeding circulation in no small part because anybody to the right of Antonio Villaraigosa feels snubbed, insulted, offended, and abused by your news coverage (not to mention the editorial pages). It's telling that both the Washington Post and the New York Times are less aggressively partisan than the L.A. Times, and I have no problem reading them without feeling dirty; the only paper comparable to the L.A. Times is the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

I would strongly urge you to hire a few experienced, respected editors who happen to be at least center-right in their politics. The idea isn't to bias the paper to the right, but rather to have at least a few loud voices outside the Times left-center-left echo chamber... a couple of people to say, "hey, that doesn't sound right; can we recheck a few facts in this story?" or "don't you think you should ask the opinion of some Republican other than Lincoln Chafee, Susan Collins, or Ron Paul?"

So long as a significant chunk of Los Angeles believes that the paper publishes liberal propaganda rather than news, circulation will continue to plummet, and more of your publishers will be fired.

You needn't lean right; but you mustn't bend so awfully far to the left. If you were a little more centered, you might begin to repair the damage.

(Oh, and also keep the snarky, editorial comments out of straight news stories, please. They're inappropriate and infantile.)

Thanks for the opportunity to give some input.

Dafydd ab Hugh
http://biglizards.net/blog

Gingerguy

You guys crack me up. All this dribble about making changes to survive. You all know your product does not appeal to 49% of the population. Until you decide that your political bias in print is NOT as important as your own survival then nothing will change. You have the surveys of 'why' people cancel their subscriptions, publish those figures, let us see for ourselves as to how many have canceled their subscriptions because of your media bias vs. other reasons.

Ben Sullivan

The stories are out there, and the stories are what seem to attract and keep readers. That gets lost a bit in the hullabaloo around online vs. offline, etc. It's those great stories, or even the merely helpful stories, that willkeep and build readership.

To that end, it's a bit of a numbers game. I don't think it is realistic that minus some buckling down, 450 good, plugged in reporters can produce more compelling work than 600 of the same.

My belief is a new combination of permanent freelancers, quasi staff or stipended bloggers will wind up filling the gaps, and that may not be a bad things. A stay at home reporter who gives half time to the L.A. Times for $45,000 a year can do a lot of good.

retired

What happened to Joel Sappell's much publicized project to improve the website? Reich indicates it was a lack of support. What does that mean?

Joe Jenney

Read the first three items from The Free Republic over and over. People buy newspapers for local news of interest and for accurate and unbiased information on important issues locally and world wide. Current newspapers are long on sensationalizm and political bias and very short on factual reporting. Today's reporters appear not to care if what they report is correct or not, just will it promote the reporter's selfinterest. I suspect this will require hiring reporters that have the ability to think and to reason logically and statistically. Things apparently not taught in journalism today.

RZ

I recently moved back to LA after 5 years in Washington, DC. Altough the Washington Post has its fair share of flawas, one thing it does very well is to engage the DC community. It has weekly online chats on all sorts of topics - work life, job searches, money management, entertainment, happenings around town, restaurants. In this way, it formed an online connection with readers and local residents. Often, my first stop for information on many topics was the Washington Post. The Los Angeles Times should consider doing something similar.

Andrew Matthews

I must respond to those who claim L.A. Times has a liberal bias, because the reason I cancelled my subscription was I was sick of the L.A. Times tilting to the right, especially in a city that is vastly liberal and critical of the current administration. The L.A. Times had the fortune of having one of the only columnists in the country whose pre-invasion predictions about Iraq were dead on: Robert Scheer. As the debacle in the Middle East unfolded, Scheer was proved to be right about everything from sectarian violence to WMDs. And what was his reward from the Times? He was fired. And replaced with two new pro-Iraq war columnsists, whose own predictions had proved to be wildly wrong, delusional even.
What has turned the L.A. Times from a real newspaper into a rag is the attention paid to "liberal media" conspiracy theorists, who see bias if a paper calls a failure a failure. Go back to reporting what you know is true. Have reporters investigate and tell your readers what's true, and don't compromise it with delicacy or "balance".

MIchael Kennedy

I got a chuckle from Andrew. If the Times hasn't got him, I can't help.

I would make a couple of suggestions. The Times used to have a decent Orange County section. That became California Section and the change suggested an absence of local interest. The only Orange County coverage now seems to be attacks on a few local officials from the point of view of leftist state wide organizations like the "public interest law firms" allied with developers of subsidized "affordable housing."

The web site is not bad and I use it to follow sports. I was a subscriber for 40 years but finally gave up when the tilt of the op-ed page spread to the news pages. If you want the center right to come back, get the bias and snarky comments out of the news pages. I would also suggest going back to the "Right" and "Left" POV columns. It's obvious anyway. Lastly, the e-mail addresses that used to be appended to columns were a good thing and I even had civil debates with Robert Scheer 15 years ago. If he can say it, he should be able to defend it. I had a hilarious exchange with Hiltzik a few months ago that ended with him ranting at the importunate peasant who dared to criticize him.

You could work on the Business Office, too. I tried to resubscribe a year ago because I felt I should support the web site and the price was minimal. I couldn't get it done. I was getting threatening letters from the collections department before I had gotten the first bill. I gave up and unsubscribed again.

nk

I second Andrew Matthews (I think). Buy blue pencils by the truckload. Have your editors pretend they are Journalism 101 professors. "Just the facts, please, ma'am". Be cold and dry but accurate without bias. Be better than the wire services. (For example, I have read stories from the LAT which refused to accept all the allegations put out by Reuters and were later proven right.) This will engender trust. Let your editorial page (the fluff pages too) provide the color. If people trust your reporting they will continue to read your paper even if your editorials make them angry or they find the Arts and Styles sections boring. The media -- print, broadcast and internet -- is inundated with opinion and entertainment. There is a hunger for credible information.

Pat Saperstein

1) First and foremost, make the website more readable and workable. The New York Times website loads in a flash, is clearly laid out and easy to navigate. A quick look shows there are only about three ads per article instead of the L.A. Times' six per article -- perhaps not as big a moneymaker, but much more pleasant to read.
2) Then make it possible to easily comment on specific articles like at Salon.com. Maybe that's not necessary for every news article, but it certainly makes opinions and features more interesting.
3) The whole Calendar Live thing is outdated and unworkable, trash it and organize this section properly -- half the features in the Thursday calendar are impossible to find online.
4) Get rid of the awful Getting Personal column -- if you can't find good writers for this type of feature like the New York Times does for its Modern Love section, then don't bother running it.
5) Get rid of the fast food reviews, they're embarrassingly tacky.

Antonio Villaraigosa's Cabana Boy

Political Correctness. The illness permeates the very foundations of your institution. So much so that you will never, ever, effect a turn-around without outside help and intervention. You're far too parochial to take this task on alone. Decades of bashing the middle class has taken its toll, no? But of course you don't (incapable of) see it that way.

Want more readers? Be prepared to take some bitter medicine to make the institution healthy. Or die doing the same old, same old: martyrs hanging on the cross of social justice. It's your choice though. If you choose to die, then please, as a final gesture, have the courage to confess on your deathbed that the disease was self-administered. For maximum effect, any contrition should run above the fold.

Mike Myers

I'll leave the comments about right/left bias alone (although I note that just one of the commenters thinks you lean too far right).

Hire editors who can edit stories to a reasonable length( see the NYT and the WSJ). Your editors have traditionally let reporters run on ad nauseam. If you keep your reporters to the traditional who what where when and why, the opportunity to throw in gratuitous political snarky comments will go away. You can use the space you save to publish editorials to your heart's content. But then based on the bias that creeps into your news pages, you've gone at the problem from the other direction.

As far as I can tell by looking at your work, the copy desk disappeared from the Times newsroom maybe twenty years ago.

David Ehrenstein

Andrew Matthews is right on the money. Most of the other comments in here suggest the L.A. Times won't be acceptable until it's indistinguishable from Free Republic.

What the paper needs is solid local reporting on actual news regardless of how the political chips will fall, and regardless of fashion. L.A. is not New York, though much coverage in the L.A. Times suggests it thinks it is.

Attacking political figures of whatever stripe as mere personalities will not do. They're specific programs (or lack of same) should be closely examined and interrogated.

TakeFive

I have to laugh that people actually miss Robert Scheer. Don't you know "he" was merely a piece of software designed to troll the net for negative stories on Bush and then auto-generate a weekly column? Now if we could just uninstall Steve Lopez…

The first poster has it right “the Times doesn't have the gumption at the editorial level to piss off elites,…” and I’m not sure they have it at the reporter level either. Might be even deeper than that; an ideological mindset that renders one incapable of seeing any other points of view.

You want to know why talk radio and blogs work? They make people uncomfortable. They make proponents of crazy causes justify their results or explain their methodology.

Require your staff to pass college level logic and statistics classes. Teach them how to ask follow up questions. Immediately banish anyone caught re-typing a press release.

Tim McGarry

I don't have any data and can't offer much beyond a sort of introspective review -- i.e., what's important to this individual reader.

I've been a reader for close to 50 years and continue to place a very high value on the paper's core competency, newsgathering.

I value the broad scope of coverage and don't want to see it diminished. The foreign and national bureaus are the paper's crown jewels and anything that threatens to undermine them should be strongly resisted.

At the same time, I agree with the frequently heard criticism that the paper doesn't cover Los Angeles and the region nearly as well as it should. I think the zoned editions and the bureaus that went with them are sorely missed. Regional editors with clout and resources seem essential.

But this means more boots on the ground, not less.

"Business" under Bill Sing was very consumer-friendly and useful. As a reader, I've been sorry to see that diminish, although it's made my professional life easier.

But, again, more resources are needed, not less.

I'm old, so I like print. I still read the paper first thing in the morning. What I look to the Web site for is updates throughout the day. I go to the NYT or the wire services on Yahoo! before I go to the LAT, however. Fresher content, easier navigation -- it's that simple.

Again, more resources, rather than less.

The "Oceans" series was very impressive and its use of video promising. However, this, too, would require more investment.

So as far as the distribution of news goes, print is declining while the Web is rising. How to wring more revenue from Web distribution of content? I wish I knew, but I think that's where the real challenge is. It's far more important than all the "right vs. left" commotion.

I would pay more attention to blogs, however, from all sides of the political spectrum and make use of their corrective potential. I have some sympathy for the "faster, more visible" corrections" school-of-thought. Finally, the paper needs to take its own blogs more seriously. More consistency and continuity would be a good place to start.

TakeFive

One more comment. I want to buy the Times. I miss having it in my driveway in the morning. There's just something more satisfying about an actual physical newspaper than reading on a screen.

I've been reading it since 1976 and it seems like a part of southern california. But I need a reason to buy it. What is the value added? What would make me crave to read it first thing in the morning?

m.croche

You can disregard complaints from the far-right blogging echo-chamber. A quick survey of their complaints shows that they have pretty peculiar notions as to what constitutes balanced journalism (see, "Iraq, Reporting Good News From"). Of course you run a business, but chasing after the crazies can also alienate your current readership.

Also, how about bringing in a serial novel or two?

Joe Yowsa

The thing is ... the LAT has basically screwed the pooch. With seriously unbalanced news presentation, many potential readers will never buy it again. At the same time, the people who like such a tilt to the left will expect it to continue and they risk losing them if they ever try to right the ship. It just doesn't make sense to let that happen but the damage has been done. ... One thing they might consider is if their "editor" ever gets the notion of doing a joint article with the NYT again ... just fire him immediately. No questions asked. Same for the Pyongyang Times. If he's considering doing such a thing with Granma, ask him some serious questions.

Gary St.Clair

I have been reading the Times ever since I moved to Southern California in 1976, and had been aware of its vaunted reputation before then. The paper started going to hell when the conversative retards in the Chandler family reasserted control, and it was only after the sale to the Tribune Company that the paper took the onramp to recovery. The blockheads who rant about tilting to the left were writing the same crap in 1976.

I do think that the Times had made a mistake in dropping most of its local coverage. From what I can tell, the San Gabriel Valley doesn't exist in the Times building. And I am so tired of the self-satisfied Westside homeowners being lauded for their creativity while living such pressured lives. There are two valleys and the South Bay surrounding that core area, and they contain the greater share of the metropolitan population.

The matter of not tackling the Brahmen class is another sore point. Steve Lopez takes his shots at some, but the Times has yet to take on Eli Broad and his bloated ego/Grand Avenue project. Rick Caruso is another one. These people have all these grand plans on how people should live, work, and shop, yet they themselves will never exist in those circumstances.

A great many comments have been made about healthcare, housing, education, etc., yet the Times has not put the hammer to the nail - you cannot reduce taxes (and make that a priority) and fund the services needed by our citizens. The GOP, including Arnold, prides itself on not raising taxes, and then lies to the public regarding why services must be reduced. The Times owes it to its readers to shine the light of day on these antics.

Give people a reason to read the Times. You can't please everybody, but you can certainly be more interesting, even controversial, if you pursue the truth. Remember, if people are reading the Times, then advertisers will follow.

And finally, yes, I look at the website, which could use some improvements. However, I do not wish to rely on a computer screen for all my news. I enjoy reading the paper while having coffee, eating, listening to the radio, watching TV, etc. The computer does not lend itself to those other activities.

Dafydd ab Hugh

Any time anyone notes that the L.A. Times (or any other news source) has a strong leftward bias, it's inevitable that a passle of folks will come screaming over to say no, it's a right-wing bias.

There is a very easy way to prove the former is correct: go around the newsroom, stop each reporter or editor you see, and ask the following:

"I'm doing a little informal survey, no names. I just want to ask you one question: did you always know that Bush lied to get us into Iraq so we can steal their oil, or were you fooled for a while and only found out later?"

If even a single person you ask objects to the premise of the question, I will be pleasantly surprised. What I expect is that every respondent will simply answer the question one way or the other.

(And I think we know what Andrew Matthews would do.)

Seriously, when only ardent liberals with full-blown Bush Derangement Syndrome believe the paper is fair and unbiased, then you have a very serious problem indeed. The L.A. Times, having forced virtually every other paper out of Los Angeles, has an obligation to be the paper for all of us... not just for one side of the political spectrum.

Think about what I suggested: hiring a couple of high-ranking editors (of the news pages, not the financial pages, the Op-Eds, or the help-wanted ads) who actually call themselves "center right." Have them vet articles on sensitive subjects, or any article which generates a lot of complaints about bias.

You may lose the loons on the left who think Robert Scheer is a middle-of-the-road centrist... but would you rather appeal to the most liberal 50%, or would you rather appeal to the middle 80%, losing only the lunatic 10% on either side?

Dafydd

Marc Sadoff

I've subscribed to the Los Angeles Times since 1979. I used to be able to take the Times Editorial recommended voter guide straight to the voting booth, and with few exceptions rely upon it for help in choosing candidates and voting for or against propositions. That is, until a few years ago.

Yes, I am an unabashed progressive liberal who used to drive a Volvo. The letting go of Sheer and Rodriguez was the moment I ceased my subscriptions. I should say I did not do so because I read them religiously, but because the event simply focused more attention on how the new ownership by the Tribune was exerting more influence. Let's call it the 'USA Today' influence... or a homogenizing. The result is pablum.

Maybe it's fantasy, but I think the L.A. Times I used to read would have torn apart and investigated the administration's versions of why we had to go to war in Iraq. All the media were guilty of this avoidance of their role, but the L.A. Times was a particular disappointment to me.

I like what I read earlier in these posts about how readers want their paper to make people (in power) uncomfortable. Rodriguez pissed me off every other cartoon. Sheer informed me and got me excited. Although, his articles got me mad at those in power. Like the current administration who demoted, fired or ignored those who disagreed with them, the Trib let Sheer go... the one writer who was most aggressive and prescient in his commentaries about the Iraq war.

I know the Times has other writers who took liberal and antiwar perspectives, but Sheer did so with the aggressive spirit of the muckrakers of the past. THAT'S what makes a reader want to subscribe!

I am very worried about the concentration of media and the fourth estate in the hands of the few. Democracy depends upon an informed electorate. Gee, I wonder what position the L.A. Times editorial board would take on the FCC issue of one company dominating the media in geographic areas?

Bottom line: The Times does not reflect my views and is not exciting, nor can I look to it to make those in power squirm (re:editorial pages).

And, oh how I so miss the smell of the newsprint wafting and mixing with that of my morning coffee!

Carol May

I canceled the paper recently due to ongoing, though simple to correct delivery problems. So I would first get delivery people who can get the paper to the front door on time, all the sections together, everyday.

Next, the international reporting is still top notch. Local is barely there, and this is a local paper. And Opinion has stunk every since Kinsley took over (though his op-ed piece last week was right on the money).

Now that I'm reading the Times on line everyday, please, work on the website. I also read the Wall Street Journal, and it is so much easier to read online. It is more like a paper newspaper in its fonts and layout. The Times is too cluttered, too hard to navigate. Plus the interactivity is hard to use.

Cathleen


The very best thing that the Los Angeles Times does is long-form investigative reporting. It is absolutely the best in the country, with the Toledo Blade nipping at your heels.

Your news gathering is fine. Your reporters are competent to excellent, and unbiased, contrary to the opinion of the Free Republic aficionados who have commented here. Not only that, but they generally give a courteous reply when contacted.

The Los Angeles Times does not cover local news well. It is reluctant to ruffle the feathers of the Hollywood elite and the Mahoneys and the Riordans. Probably your editors spend too much time socializing with the movers and shakers of Los Angeles to cover them competently. In addition, one might think your editorial offices are in Chicago for all the local flavor that you impart on your pages. Los Angeles is a patchwork quilt of diverse communities, a fact that apparently your editors have yet to discover.

You have the absolute worst, most boring editorial pages in the country! All right wing all the time. You have the odious Yoo and Boot, giving their crackpot theories prime newspaper real estate, and when you hired the shallow and uninformed Goldberg is when I cancelled my subscription forever. You have no comparable voices from the left (if indeed there are ANY left wing voices as radical as Yoo and Boot are radical to the right.) Your editorial writers are just plain uninformed about California issues and thus usually wrong.

You fall short in your performing arts criticism, but that's okay, because I never could find any in your Calendar section due to your extreme overcoverage of movies. And I do mean EXTREME. Some people in Los Angeles like live theater, opera, and ballet, ya know. It'd be nice to know when there is some.

So there it is, IMHO.

Alex

Those who claim the Times salvation lies in emulating the FoxNews model -- tacking a course to the right, towards Pravdaland -- really don't care if the Times survives. They'd just as soon see a daily which reports hard news go out of business. If the Times becomes the NY Post, it will lose far more readers than it alienates by failing to conform its journalism to the Minitruth standards urged by people like Patterico, Daffyd, Roger Simon and the like. People can already buy USA Today.

Jim Wilson

I'll be the first to agree this is the wrong approach. A group of part of the problem (Times writers and editors) is not going to actually come up with the solution.

Here are three suggestions that seem small, but would radically alter the LA Times:

-- Help people actually PLAN THIER LIVES and LIVE THEIR LIVES. Too many stories are of NO USE to peoople. Are they interesting? Sure.
But, people have too little time to sit around reading these stories, which may or may not have any point.
Tell me a MONTH out, what the coolest Halloween costumes are for this Halloween SO I CAN PLAN AHEAD and that would be good. Tell me a month out where to take Mom for Mother's Day brunch and I'll thank you. (Don't tell me the Sunday before because it's too late.) Give me a great gift guide for Christmas (not the most expensive things to buy people or the most "hip" things, but REAL SOLUTIONS TO things..)
Tell me things that will actually help me live my day-to-day life.

-- Rework your entire hiring process. Reporters and editors at every mid-level and large paper in the U.S. aspire to work at your paper. And, guess how they write and act to get there? They follow a template. Their clips reflect it. Their attitude reflects it. They spend their entire careers molding themselves into an LA Times hire. So, what happens when they get to the LA Times? Well, they keep writing and acting that way. And what do YOU and READERS get? Writers who have written their ENTIRE careers for editors and Journalists (capital J intended). It's really mainly about hiring people who are not going to write for other journalists and are going to write and approach everything differently.

-- Stop trying to be cool. You won't be. So, just give up.

Patterico

The letting go of Sheer and Rodriguez was the moment I ceased my subscriptions.

Do you mean Michael Ramirez?

Dave Pierre

1. Hire some columnists who abide by a genuine Christian worldview. The Times is a relentlessly anti-Christian and anti-Catholic newspaper (NewsBusters.org has documented several recent examples). This bigotry may be acceptable in the 15 square miles of west Los Angeles and Hollywood, but the Times has got to learn that its prejudice is offensive to millions of potential readers. Maybe the Times can look into recruiting young journalists from Christian colleges.

2. Get rid of Tim Rutten. His anti-conservative and anti-Christian bias is just awful. How many more columns on Mel Gibson am I going to have to endure? Los Angeles is the epicenter of the entertainment world, and the Times desperately needs a solid, balanced, and fair-minded media critic.

3. The liberal slant of the Times is well documented, and the paper has got to do something about it. (For example, the Times has recently given generous coverage to the undercover Arnold tape (Puerto Ricans/Cubans are "hot"), Rev. Jerry Falwell's remarks on Hillary Clinton, books by Bob Woodward and David Kuo, and the Rep. Mark Foley scandal. However, this past week, when House Minority leader Harry Reid HUNG UP THE PHONE on an AP reporter asking him about a questionable (and possibly unethical) land deal, the Times did not print ONE SYLLABLE about it!) The Times needs to totally revamp its news departments and eliminate the DNC groupthink.

4. Erase that silly and biased editorial policy that forbids columnists from using the words "pro-life" in the abortion debate. Pro-lifers are tagged with the negatively phrased "antiabortion," while pro-choicers are given the positive spin of "abortion rights advocates."

5. Hire Larry Elder. He's a conservative. He grew up in South Central Los Angeles! He already writes a weekly column! C'mon!

6. Get rid of Max Boot. Boot is the Times' idea of a conservative, but his columns are so dry and boring, I can honestly say I've never been able to finish a single one.

BOB KHOLOS

I've been reading the LA times since about 1955, with all of it's changes.
Reporters such as Pat McGreevey and Robert Salladay shoud be give much more freedom and better placement in the stories they write.
George Skelton should be put on the second or third page "as commentary" as Sacto Report.
Lay off the Michael Moore editing of the front page and get back to the LA mindset.
Example: Did you know that the Audobon society has a complete public facility in ELA..which uses no electricity, and even the gray water from the bathrooms are recycled.
Get off the Vietnam vet atrocity stories..and report on the reality of Los Angeles.
Do you accept gangs for example..why arn't you doing follow-up on how to solve the problems?

Richard

If you truly want to save this rag, then quit being a puppet of the wacko leftists that have infected the Democratic Party.
Once you prove that you are interested in prenting the truth about issues and are accurately conveying the news and events that affect us all, then you might get back those of us who got fed up with your one-sided views and slanting of your stories and looked elsewhere for an outlet who would provide both sides of every story.

Richard D. Davis

Why do you think growing numbers of people find comedy shows like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report better places for news than traditional news broadcasts?

I'd like to assert, for your consideration, that these comedy shows actually do better journalism than the broadcasts they parody. Traditional news organizations seem to have adopted the flawed idea that by simply parroting whatever statements are handed to them by "competing" advocates, they have achieved "objectivity." This is neither objective nor fair. A better standard includes comparison of those stated claims against the rest of the relevant public record instead of just the flat distribution of politically slanted screed.

It is this comparison and analysis that comedians are doing in their pointed jests, that news outlets are not.

If you want to re-connect with readers, I recommend that you do so with a renewed commitment to real journalism. The media of distribution (print, web, broadcast, etc) don't matter if the content doesn't have intellectual maturity and integrity.

Give 'em heck in all parts of the political spectrum if and when they deserve it!

Gingerguy

Well a quick tally of the comments so far...as to how to fix the problems of the Times.

# responses...comment content

8...liberal bias of the Times
7...improve the content
4...focus more on regional news
3...increase online vs print
?...could not figure out what they wanted
4...all other opinions

Howard Veit

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

Ho ho that's rich. Current employees, reporters, executives and so on ARE the problem. Like calling on the Secret Police to see if there is censorship. Here's a recent personal first hand experience with an LA Times reporter interviewing two Blacks down by the Home Depot in East Hollywood. She was sixty something, dressed like a grunge radical from Seattle, and used a notebook and not a tape recorder. SHE: I know you're all upset with "the man" and the exploitation going on, but can you tell me what you think of the public housing shortage in the city."

So she has put herself on the side of the people fighting exploitation and what do you think the answer to her question was? Why it went like this, "there ain't nothin' happining anywhere because "the man" won't let it happen."

I've seen this "reporter" on Life and Times once or twice and she is Berkeley 1968, period. She supposedly writes news, not for a moment does she realize that she is engaged in (agit-prop, indoctrination, and propaganda). She, and those like her are what is wrong at the Times, and I think that 95% of the Times employees and suprvisors are like her.

Paul Panza

The L.A. Times remains one of the better dailes in the nation. Unfortunately, the Times has slipped over the last few years, bowing to corporate threats to remove advertisng etc. The paper has taken a decidedly softer stance from the exciting, cutting-edge jouralism it used to publish. Returning Robert Speer would be a good start towards reclaiming the freshness and integrity you once had.

Matt Welch

S-c-h-e-e-r is how it's spelled, one and all. "Sheer" is the kind of energy one get from pantyhose; "Speer" was a Nazi of some sort.

Martin Chazen

Sorry, I just couldn’t stop laughing. How ironic that free-market discipline finally forced management to confront problems bubbling in the background for 20 years or more. Why did it take a drastic drop in market capitalization for management to wake up and smell the shareholders? The fact that management chose the New York Times, not the Wall Street Journal, to break the story is revealing in itself.

The fundamental question is: Does management possess the Lee Iacocca-like fortitude to make fundamental and systemic changes, or will subscribers end up with New! Improved! labeling, only to find the dog food tastes (or reads) the same? It remains to be seen. However, consumers aren’t stupid and management has few chances to get something like this right.

You can start the healing process by separating news and editorial. The tactic of loading news articles with editorial-consistent advocacy is transparent and insulting. The Los Angeles Times really does have a left-leaning bias that alienated a huge portion of the customer base and those alienated consumers do what alienated consumers do – they voted with their wallets. If you doubt this, the proof is in falling subscription rates and earnings. If you need some ideas on how to fix the problem, consider watching the Fair and Balanced, We Report You Decide Network as a homework assignment.

Analyze market segments and consider different versions of the paper based on product lines. Look, why should a subscriber pay for a printed version of news reported and analyzed to death in real time by TV and internet 12 hours ago? Where is the added value of yesterday’s stock market report, sitting on the driveway, soggy with morning dew, when the markets are already open and moving again? How wasteful is it to buy the whole ten-pound package and throw away the irrelevant eight pounds? Most subscribers are really only interested in a few things like store sales, coupons, local news or job listings. A news/sports/editorial version can be an option for those who prefer print news. An advertising version can be an option for subscribers interested in sales and coupons. How about a version focused on entertainment and travel activities. You get the idea. If you doubt the market segment approach, try walking down the toothpaste isle at your local Wal-Mart. Oh, sorry, forgot the Los Angeles Times has an anti-Wal-Mart bias.

Finally, publish a series of in-depth, unbiased, hard-hitting reports on one of the biggest stories to ever hit Los Angeles – how The Los Angeles Times management let a dominant market position slip away and the revealing behind-the-scenes battle to cope with the disaster. In fact, hire some reporters from the Wall Street Journal to cover it. Your subscribers will love reading about a good old-fashioned family fight, I promise.

David New

I just cancelled my subscription. Here are the reasons why:

1. Coverage of local and state news is practically non-existent.
2. The op-ed pages are puerile, predictable, and boring. Boot and Goldberg are an embarrassment -- incredibly, Brooks and Kaplan are worse.
3. National and international news coverage has been so reduced over the years that there is now nothing left.
4. All the man-in-the-street interviews seem to be with people in Chicago.
5. The business section is a joke. It's as if there is no news in the world of business beyond movie grosses and TV ratings.
6. The calendar section is unreadable pap.
7. The lack of critical reporting is troubling. Your paper is like a big cheerleading section for Broad, Villaraigosa, etc.
8. There is way too much space given to "human interest" stories. Column One needs to go.
9. Throughout your paper there is a mocking, pseudo-hip tone that is annoying. Joel Stein's column best exemplifies what I mean, but the tone is there throughout. I assume you are trying to appeal to younger readers -- why you think that will do it is beyond me.

I disagree with the readers who complain about "left wing bias". They live in a liberal town -- they need to get over it.

For now I will get my news from the NYT, the Economist, and The Daily Breeze.

Matt Welch

Hey all -- Please consider filling out the quick, concrete, three-part questionnaire in this post regarding what the LAT should add, drop and keep. Gracias.

Phillip Hoffman

To get a tiny perspective of the real news on TV, I watch FOX and their counterpart, MSNBC.

In print, I read New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post and Wall St. Journal.

I must say, LA Times has, in the last few years, chosen to avoid hard-hitting national and political truths,whether they were liberal or conservative in nature. You omit front page coverage of front page events about our world, our wars and our foibles. Obviously you think we want to spend day after day with the details of a squalid murder, incestual event, etc., and it's clear that you no longer care much about the disasters we are suffering in Iraq or Afghanistan.

You omit major stories revealing the crimes and lies of Bush, Cheny, Rumsfeld, and it appears you really don't care much about Congress rolling over to cover the President's posterior in making torture, or wiretapping everybody, somehow okay.


Worse, you don't stand up for Bush either. I have no idea what moves you! But you certainly don't miss a chance to give us a few hundred front page words and several photos on some scandal involing actors. Pray tell, just what in Hell are you about? And why should I care?
You've become boring and irrelevant, during momentous times for our nation and the world.

You really want to connect? Do something to make me believe in you again. Stop judging the news and just report it to us, in full!!

James Janecek, M.D.

It would be more than helpful and probably profitable to re-think your mental image of Evangelical Christians.

Generally, they are portrayed in caricature form right out of "Elmer Gantry."

We are not knuckle dragging, primitive Neanderthals and seeing homosexuality as a sin like any other should not be the only standard we are judged by.

Most of the attacks on Evangelicals rely on ad hominems or "post hoc ergo propter hoc" arguments based on a handful of aging televangelist pontificators.

John Erb

Admit you made a mistake and rehire Robert Scheer and I'll resubscribe. I'm Libertarian and usually vote Republican and conservative, but Scheer was dead right about Iraq from the beginning and since. Forget this "Is the Times too liberal or too conservative?" debate and present voices from both sides fairly. Scheer was the only interesting liberal voice I've ever read and his sacking was a travesty, completely undeserved. And how exactly do the stoned musings of Joel Stein belong in any opinion section?

R. Zobayan

When I lived in Washington, DC, I used to not only read the Washington Post, I used to spend a lot of time on their website. They had done a great job creating an online community. They hosted weekly chat sessions with their columnists on a range of topics - job issues, restaurant reviews, local events, politics, housing, etc. People would log in every week for their favorite chat to ask questions or to become more informed. If I needed to find out something - maybe a fact about a mortgage loan, or advice on which restaurant served the best steak - I would use the Washington Post chats or their archives. I suggest you spend some time looking at their site.

Sander Schmidt

I have always felt that the LA Times is the only source of news in this region where I feel that what is being presented is really what is going on in the world. Please, don't go the way of the local "news" on television: sensationalized crime stories based on personal vengeance (as opposed to real justice), stupid pet stories to "lighten the mood", and of course fear mongering ("See how it may affect you and your family"). Give us what we need to know, not what we want to know.

paul bribbon

If, as reported, Patrick Goldstein is one of the "investigative" reporters assigned to the Manhattan Project, will the committee end up recommending that the LAT's best-paid and most prominent reporters write no more than once a week? Or, that all interviews take place in the watering holes of the rich and famous over lunch and be single-sourced? Or, that 90 percent of all column ideas be repurposed from the blogosphere?

I would venture to guess that Patrick -- an otherwise capable writer -- is responsible for a third of the bylines recorded annually by the ubiquitous utility infielder Susan King, and at half her salary. There are many other examples of under-utilized reporters and superfluous editors, but none is so obvious.

Methinks, those responsible for staffing the Manhattan Project are trying to put one over on the incoming publisher, David Hiller. Otherwise, wouldn't they have recruited panelists whose work wouldn't be missed in the interim? LAT staffers may want to save and improve the paper, but none hopes to see it remain in the hands of Tribune Co. Why would they?

I think LAT subscribers would like to see a paper -- or, at least, receive features sections -- in which the best people aren't reluctant to work more than 35 hours a week, or whose coverage of the arts isn't dictated by publicists and studio ad buyers. There should be no -- no -- AP bylines in Calendar, or virtually anywhere else in the paper. -- PB


Jim H

I quote:
"I'm doing a little informal survey, no names. I just want to ask you one question: did you always know that Bush lied to get us into Iraq so we can steal their oil, or were you fooled for a while and only found out later?"

This "question" is used to discern "left-wing bias." I'm sorry, this question does nothing of the sort. The answer, from any reporter, should be in the range of, "I always knew," to "It took me a while." Denying that "Bush lied" to get us into Iraq is a proof of right-wing nuttery.

Matt Welch

Three more questions for the peanut gallery here!

Gingerguy

Updated tally...on what the LA Times should do to improve profitability

9...stop the liberal bias
8...improve the content
5...focus on regional news'
4...increase online vs. print
4...could not figure out what they wanted
7...all other assorted comments
1...they're gone, it's too late
1...lean more to the left
1...don't editorialize the new
1...it's not liberal bias, they are writing to their base.

The comments have slowed enough to draw a couple conclusions. These comments regarding the LA Times are just like the problem the Democrats have: too many different opinions and not enough leadership. Whether you agree with Pres. Bush or not is secondary to his providing our nation leadership, and that's just what is needed. Ever been in a business meeting without leadership? Nothing gets done, because no one leads. This is the basic problem of Democrats today, no one is truly leading their party, they try to play to all segments of the nation and end up accomplishing very little. Love or hate George Bush, the one thing he does is provide LEADERSHIP to the world. Funny, it's exactly the same thing the Times needs today.

Luke Grannis

The LA Times has been so busy trying to appeal to the troglodytes on the right that they've forgot their base - namely the people who actually care about reality and would like our news sources to reflect that reality. What the Times fails to realize is that the person who is prodded to moan about liberal bias, despite all evidence to the contrary, is never going to be satisfied no matter how many nitwits like Jonah Goldberg the Times hires.

Where was the coverage from the many people who were skeptical of Bush/Cheney's WMD claims? Where was the coverage of the highly unethical, if not illegal, machinations of the Republican party and the Conservative members of the Supreme Court, in the last two Presidential election cycles? If I had a dollar for each time I've discovered stories on the internet of tremendous import to the nation yet are nowhere to be found anywhere in the pages of the Times (let alone on the front page where they belong) I'd be a wealthy man.

With the news today of plummeting circulation at the Times, I'm guessing the Times is going to make the incorrect decision and further degrade it's content to appeal to the "masses." That will a big mistake.


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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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