The L.A. Business Journal has another story this week on the financial pressures at the Times. The angle to this one is that, with ads still weak, the Times drags down the Tribune Co.'s numbers and Chicago doesn't like it. The LAT makes plenty of money, but not at the rate the Tribune bosses are used to. The story offers no optimism for the future, not with Wal-Mart depressing the retail ad picture and with no prospects of a major new bolt of subscribers on the horizon.
"The L.A. Times has been a major disappointment almost from the moment Tribune acquired Times-Mirror four years ago," said Ed Atorino, a media analyst at Fulcrum Global Partners in New York. "Revenue has continued to decline more than expected and circulation isn't going very well, so they're revisiting the cost structure, tightening up content and getting rid of a lot of features."
There's nothing specific about possible future cutbacks. Sports Editor Bill Dwyre is quoted saying the recent fairly drastic reductions he had to order were painful but will blow over, and he quips about an upside: "Now you can read the section faster." The story looks ahead to next year when Tribune could get hit really hard: a possible $790 million to $1 billion tax liability left over from the dark days of Mark Willes at Times-Mirror. Trial begins in U.S. Tax Court in December to determine if the money is owed.
By the way: A couple of sources who should know confirm the rumor that LATimes.com did come within days of dropping its failed subscribe-or-pay scheme for CalendarLive a few months back. Word is that the decision was made and set in motion, but nobody told Publisher John Puerner. When he found out, he supposedly shelved the idea for the moment. At the time, someone at Blogging.la had a source on the writing staff telling them the policy shift was coming down, then it didn't. Now, what about the rumor that the Tribune is looking to build new offices in La Puente and move a big part of the LAT staff there? The paper still has large, mostly unfilled plants in Chatsworth and Costa Mesa.