SQUEEZING THE NEWS OUT OF NEWSPAPERS

Be careful, it’s a jungle out there – especially if you’re the editor of the Los Angeles Times. If you don’t eat your own editorial staff, that newspaper’s corporate brass will eat you.

Be careful, it’s a jungle out there – especially if you’re the editor of the Los Angeles Times. If you don’t eat your own editorial staff, that newspaper’s corporate brass will eat you.

In 2000, the Times was bought by the Tribune Company, a media conglomerate based in Chicago that owns such other papers as the Chicago Tribune, as well as two-dozen television stations. The conglomerate brought in a well-regarded editor, John Carroll, to run the LA paper, and he and his staff produced 13 Pulitzer Prizes in five years. But headquarters kept forcing newsroom job cuts on Carroll and demanding more – until he got fed up in 2005 and quit.

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Next came Dean Baquet, another stalwart journalist. Again, conglomerate chieftains in Chicago kept ordering him to devour more reporters, until he couldn’t take it any more and, in 2006, said “no.” He was sacked. That put James O’Shea in the editor’s chair, but now comes word that the job has eaten him up, too. He’s just been fired for refusing to cut $4 million more from the newsroom budget.

That’s three editors chewed up and spit out in just over three years. They were not fired because of any journalistic shortcomings, but because they wouldn’t fire the people who do the journalism.

Was the paper unprofitable? No. The nastiest part of America’s increasingly-conglomerated media is that the owners don’t merely want to make a profit, they want to make a killing! In 2006, for example, the Los Angeles Times hauled in nearly $600 million in profit – a 10 percent return on sales.

Many independent papers would be happy with that financial result, but conglomerate investors howl for returns of 30 percent or more. So they try to bleed newsrooms (the very reason papers exist) to death, in order to extract still another dime for their own pockets.

“Los Angeles Editor Ousted After Resisting Job Cuts,” www.nytimes.com, January 21, 2008

“L.A. Times Ousts Another Editor,” www.forbes.com, January 21, 2008

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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