Harry B. Chandler actually worked at the Los Angeles Times, unlike most of his relatives who own shares in Tribune. He was an early proponent of an ambitious Internet strategy, but his ideas met with confused stares during the Mark Willes regime in the late 1990s. He frets over the Times in a piece in today's Current, says Tribune's strategies have failed, and offers some sharp advice for the paper to have a future: consolidated bureaus, holding editors accountable for well-read stories, a new local approach to news and appointing executives who have a clue about Southern California.
First, let me clear up misconceptions about "the Chandler family." It is not a small group that meets at "the club" on Sundays, but rather 170 living descendants of Harry Chandler and his wife, Marian, who established the trusts that controlled The Times and its corporate cousins until the sale to Tribune in 2000. Many members of this extended family live outside Southern California; most are not named Chandler. Although many of us have a financial interest in Tribune, only eight sit on the board that makes decisions about the trust. I believe only seven, including me, have worked at The Times....
I would propose aligning editors' compensation with the success of the sections they steward. Start by measuring the impact of certain coverage or columns, which is more complicated than simply sizing up popularity with readers. It wouldn't be easy. But with benchmarks established, editors could be given incentives to fill their pages with must-read stories that make water-cooler conversations and e-mails buzz. These, rather than winning Pulitzers, should be the paper's editorial goals.
Publishers and editors should know the difference between an Amber Alert and a SigAlert, he says:
In this era of multiple news sources, all next-day newspapers should shift their emphasis from duplicated news — such as national and world news and sports — to enterprise stories, analysis and exclusives. Weeklies such as Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated learned this years ago. The Times should become the indispensable source about Southern California, even if that means reducing staff in Washington and New York. Publish only columnists with original, even provocative, perspectives. Pursue more investigative pieces and assign fewer reporters to a story that 75% of readers already saw on ESPN or CNN or Yahoo....Latimes.com has been a follower, not a leader, having turned over decision-making to the Chicago management. This needs to change.
A succession of publishers and editors who don't know an Amber Alert from a SigAlert have been parachuted in to run The Times. The paper needs executives who understand the area. Providing great editorial coverage and civic leadership for this, the largest, most complicated urban space in the world, are tasks unsuited to outsiders whose tour of duty in the Southland may not outlast the Santa Anas.
When was the last time the paper initiated a new local event, like the Festival of Books? Or led a campaign for civic improvement?
In Chandler's view the Tribune is unlikely to sell the Times, but says we all should be worried about if the paper did go to a new profit-squeezing owner or an ego-driven billionaire (no names!) with an agenda. "Heck, my great-great-grandfather, Harrison Gray Otis, who bought the Times in 1882, was that type of guy, and it took half a century for my father, Otis Chandler, to undo that personal-pulpit legacy and make The Times the great newspaper it is," Chandler writes.
Meanwhile: Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper publisher, "has emerged as a possible bidder for Tribune's newspaper properties," according to the Chicago Tribune.