Times weighs in on itself *

Today's L.A. Times reports on what the news side calls a "major shake-up" of the paper's op-ed page (detailed here yesterday), leading with the dropping of controversial presences Robert Scheer and Michael Ramirez, the addition of Jonah Goldberg and Erin Aubry Kaplan and the reduction of Patt Morrison to once a week. [* Patt Morrison was already once a week and stays that way.] Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson acknowledges he was involved in the decision: "You've got a new editorial page editor and a new publisher. We sat down and talked about the pages and decided to make the changes." Scheer, a fixture on Tuesdays with a large following, and Ramirez—the conservative who replaced Pulitzer-winning liberal Paul Conrad—both voice objections in the Times story.

Scheer said he thought The Times had grown tired of his liberal politics. "I've been a punching bag for Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh for years and I think the paper finally collapsed," he said. He said he and Ramirez "both had strong opinions and [I think] the owners think they can improve circulation by making the paper bland and safer."

Ramirez, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994, said: "I can't help but think it's also a philosophical parting of ways." He said he also believed his removal was partly due to budgetary concerns, as well as a desire to change the look of the editorial pages.

Ramirez's departure leaves The Times without a permanent staff editorial cartoonist. (Ramirez's predecessor, Paul Conrad, won three Pulitzer Prizes, two of them at The Times).

"You have a newspaper that has such a grand tradition of editorial cartooning," Ramirez said. "I think it makes a lesser product and I think the readers lose."

LA Weekly editor, The Nation contributor and blogger Marc Cooper posted his underwhelmed impressions early this morning:

You’d think with circulation slumping and now a couple of years into futzing with the editorial pages, the mighty Times would pony up to purchase a couple of nationally-known powerhouses.

Unlike the NYTimes or even the WashPo, the LATimes has lacked a signature set of opinion writers. That omission will now continue. With Scheer’s departure, the Times line-up is now bereft of a single, muscular journalist with veteran national and international reporting experience– the sort of experience,by the way, that is pre-requisite for strong local columnizing in a place like L.A.

They didn’t even steal some proven commodity from another paper. The new list is full of wonks and magazine editors along with a self-obsessed comedy writer and a Gen X autobiographer and memoirist. The only hard-core political writers are conservatives: the extremely dull and excessively ideological Max Boot and the terribly annoying and gossamer-weight propagandist Jonah Goldberg (who by contrast, makes David Brooks seem one of the towering intellects of the modern era).

Oops, sorry. I forgot the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait. Now, why would that be? For those who keep score, Chait is what’s known as neo-liberal i.e. someone barely inside the Democratic Party (and in this case, I’m sorry to say, a very dry, boring writer – the sort of student you’d assign to whip up a term paper, say, on the history of pollution trading credits).

Rosa Brooks, a Virginia law prof and daughter of lefty icon Barbara Ehrenreich, has been writing some provocative fare on the op-ed page for some months now. Good to see her retained.

The other issue made evident by this line-up, is that the new Times columnists are virtually all contract freelancers. The only staff writer I see on the list is Patt Morrison – a witty and wonderfully talented writer who, unless I’m reading this wrong—has just had her column reduced in frequency of publication. A not very smart move, if true.

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