It has come to this: James O'Shea's first address to the staff as editor of the Los Angeles Times was considered newsworthy enough to be reported on in today's paper. That's a first. Some in the newsroom wore Dean Baquet's face on buttons. O'Shea said the right things about respecting Baquet and wanting to ensure that "this paper will remain a major force in American journalism." He asked not to be viewed as the hatchet man from Chicago. But he also acknowledged that he's likely just a stop-gap, noting that his wife is staying behind in Chicago and that "sometime after the first of the year we are probably going to have new owners."
O'Shea said he did not expect to make decisions about the size of The Times staff until next year. He said he was prepared to reject proposed reductions if he believed they would hurt the paper.
"If I think there is too much staff I will say so," O'Shea said. "And if I think there is not enough, I will say that too."
Times Managing Editor Doug Frantz, a friend of both the former and current editor, asked the staff to work with O'Shea.
"I hope that all of us here will give him the chance that he deserves because, frankly, he is the only chance that we have right now," Frantz said.
O'Shea asked the staff to "focus our energy on putting out good newspapers and not focus so much of our energy on our woes."
He praised The Times' foreign, national and features coverage and said he needed more time to draw any conclusions about how the paper should cover its vast and complex base in Southern California.
It's only somewhat cynical to think there's little impact he can have in the hard news realm other than to screw things up. His senior editors know as much as he does about good journalism and covering the world and nation, and a lot more about reporting on Los Angeles and California. A bigger issue is that subjects where a top editor of the Los Angeles Times should also really shine, since the readers demand more and better from the paper — sports, ethnic and urban culture, entertainment, lifestyle, arts, how readers use the web — are apparently not O'Shea's strong suits. "I know O'Shea only too well...he's strictly a news guy," emails a former Tribune staffer. So what's he doing here again? Oh yeah, he's here to implement the new publisher's new vision. Or to get the paper lean, mean and ready to sell. Will he support a money-losing Book Review or West magazine, as Baquet did? [ Added: Video and more quotes from his remarks.]
Also in today's Times: Some Chandler family members want to bid on the Times and get back in the newspaper business, others don't.
Photo: Bob Fila / Chicago Tribune