Soon-to-depart L.A. Times Editor John Carroll contends in the Columbia Journalism Review that the paper's circulation is not dropping because of anything to do with how or what it reports (or doesn't report) the news. Instead, he asserts that if anything the content has diminished the loss of readers. Many readers might disagree, especially on the political right and in areas of Southern California where the Times made an editorial strategy (and budgetary) decision to reduce news coverage. But here's what he said:
Paul McLeary: One of the reasons the Los Angeles Times represents a puzzling -- even disturbing -- case study for the rest of us is the striking disparity between its journalistic performance (13 Pultizer prizes in five years) and its circulation performance (daily readership down 6.5 percent and Sunday readership down 7.9 percent in just the past 12 months). You must have felt at times like the gladiator who keeps vanquishing foes in the arena, yet every time he looks up at the bleachers, people are filing out the exits. As the guy who lived that paradox, do you have any insights into it to share?
John Carroll: I believe content had nothing to do with the circulation decline; if anything, the decline was mitigated by our content. Where does the blame lie? The list is long: 1. The scandal at Newsday, which prompted both our internal auditors and the Audit Bureau of Circulation to disallow certain types of sales that were previously considered legitimate. 2. The advent of the "do not call" list, which stymied our phone sales. 3. The reduction of the newspaper's cost base by more than $130 million annually, which cut the strength of marketing and promotion efforts, among others. 4. Issues on the business side that recently prompted the appointment of new directors of circulation and marketing. 5. And, of course, increased competition for readers' time. That's only a partial list.
Carroll also calls it an "unintended tribute" to the Times that Mickey Kaus is on the paper's case so much.
* Counterpoint:Jonathan Weber, a Times reporter and Business section editor until leaving in 1997 to start The Industry Standard, argues at New West.net that Pulitzers don't equate to readers and that Carroll should take more responsibility for the paper's waning success: "Personally, as an editor, I am always happy to blame all problems on the business side. That's practically part of the job description of an editor...Yet in almost any other business, if the product was not selling, one of things people would question is whether the product is meeting the needs of its audience...If the most revered editors in the country don't even admit the possibility that readership issues might be related to the style, voice and subject matter of the paper, then we can be sure pretty sure the declines will continue." 12:15 p.m.
** Also: Raves for Baquet as an editor from the NYT's Jane Bornemeier and LAT's Kevin Sack, plus his origins in New Orleans. 3:35 p.m.