Shelby Coffey, the former editor of the L.A. Times, returned to the pages of the Washington Post Sunday with a review of two books on journalism, including Ken Auletta's Backstory: Inside the Business of News. Before coming to Los Angeles in the late 1980s, Coffey was a senior editor at the Post, including a stint as boss of the Style section.
He likes Auletta's work and calls him the Liebling of our day, blessed with "prime access, a fine ear and smooth narrative clarity, especially about business strategy." He praises Auletta's account of the Willes era at the LAT:
Full disclosure: I've known Ken Auletta professionally for some years, and I show up briefly in "Demolition Man," the piece on Mark Willes, then-publisher of Los Angeles Times. In my cameo, I appear pale, tired and tight-lipped, shortly after resigning as the paper's editor. Simultaneously Willes announces a new corporate structure designed to knock down the cumbersome walls between the paper's editorial and business sides while, he vows, maintaining editorial integrity. I found it was not easy to resist a kindly inquisitor like Auletta, but bitter departures cast shadows backward and forward. Nevertheless, he managed to get the back story of the L.A. Times shakeup quite well -- including a few closely held thoughts of mine from sources I haven't been able to identify to this day.
But then the wall collapsed on the demolition man himself, Auletta explains. A couple of years later, the business side of the L.A. Times entered into a closely held agreement to share advertising revenue with the new Staples Center. Meanwhile, the editorial side, not told about the agreement, produced a special magazine on the Center. Sharing money with a subject of coverage created a noisy ethical crisis, soon followed by the Chicago Tribune Company's purchase of the Times's parent company -- and goodbye, Mr. Willes.
The credit line on the piece: "Shelby Coffey III is a senior fellow at the Freedom Forum, where he is preparing a gallery on crime coverage in the media for the new Newseum."