Patt Morrison writes in today's Los Angeles Times on her former publisher Otis Chandler:
In his person, Otis stitched together two ideas as dissonant as Valvoline and Sparkletts: a believer in that most-democratic of instruments, a free and fair press ó the only business mentioned in the Constitution ó and an heir to that most regressive of institutions, an absolute monarchy...
The paper he inherited was so lousy that humorists made a joke of it. The city he was born in was sneered at like some beautiful but stupid starlet, wanting in substance, culture, taste and history.
To his forebears, the newspaper was just a means to an end ó a club, a prod, a reward. Otis made the newspaper its own purpose, and its own mission. And he elevated the city's reputation as he elevated the paper's.
His confidence was monarchical. He asked his editor, Nick Williams, "What does it take to make this the best paper in the world?" and he set about with a checklist to make it happen.
LA Observed reader David Marcus, however, wonders about all the accolades from veteran Times staffers:
If the Times was at its Zenith in 1985, why not undertake an experiment? Pull ten random copies from 2005 and ten from 1985 and examine them for the quality and depth of the stories. Black out the bylines so whoever reads them wonít be influenced by who wrote the articles and then lets see an analysis of the paper's feature writing, international coverage, national coverage, metropolitan, regional and state coverage, business coverage, sports, entertainment and op-ed coverage. With the exception of certain columnists (Jim Murray, Jack Smith, Howard Rosenberg), I would be very surprised if the paper were actually qualitatively better then than now. I think too much of the assessment of the Otis Chandler era is based on the fact that the reporters were well compensated, had relative job security, didnít have to work very hard, and did not feel any of the economic pressure that todayís reporters and editors are made aware of on a daily basis. But that is an insiderís view of the publisher, not necessarily shared by the reader who relies on the paper for news and entertainment.
My guess is that some of those areas would have been covered better in 1985, some better now, and some better in between those years than they are in either 1985 or 2005.