There's been a bunch of analyzing, fretting and free advice-giving by staffers at the Times the past couple of days (not to mention Metro reporter Sam Quinones' cheeky email to the publisher — which now has a reply from the boss.) With the new editor arriving at 3 pm to meet the newsroom, let's start with media columnist Tim Rutten:
Alone among the country's leading papers, this one is simultaneously the most important news organization in a vast region, the Western United States, the most influential source of news in the largest and most important state in the country and the hometown newspaper of one of the world's greatest and most important cities. At the same time, it is a paper with a national and international reach because the size, interests and sophistication of its local readership require those things. Finally, the demographic realities of the world's most ethnically and culturally diverse region dictate special obligations when it comes to coverage of Latin America and the Pacific Rim.
No other American newspaper must aspire to meet all those obligations at the same time. These are not negotiable obligations in the minds of the paper's readers, and, as easy as it is to blame recent declines in readership on paradigmatic shifts in media technology, the hard truth is that a significant part of that decline has come from an erratic management that has neglected one or another of these responsibilities.
All the new-versus-old media mumbo jumbo notwithstanding, the dynamic at work here is no more complicated than the economics of a corner store: You can't keep giving people less and less and charging them the same or more for it — no matter how fancy your packaging is.
Columnist Steve Lopez plays the part of cheerleader-flack and legal affairs reporter Henry Weinstein tells what awaits O'Shea. After the jump:
In Lopez's world, Times reporters are selfless heroes who "deliver personality and purpose" every make for less than the cost of a cup of coffee (or joe, in the timeless language of newspaper columnists everywhere.) He will acknowledge, though, that the paper isn't perfect:
We can still do better in many ways. We should have developed the website more quickly. We need to connect in creative ways with more readers, and fast.
Unfortunately, greatness and ambition don't come on the cheap, something newspaper owners don't seem to get. In my 5 1/2 years here, two publishers and two editors who believed staff cuts were bad for business were pushed off the roof.
Those of us who are still here have a message for the brain trust in Chicago — or for any of the local billionaires itching to buy the joint:
Even the most old-school curmudgeons among us know we've got to learn new tricks and do more with less if the newspaper business is going to thrive again. But the bones of this operation are still pretty strong, and severing limbs won't do the journalism or the bottom line any good.
I work in an office that's neat as a landfill, poorly lighted and so cramped that reporters and editors can hear one another breathe.
Weinstein was interviewed on the Columbia Journalism Review website:
The mood in the newsroom, certainly on the day that it was clear that Dean had been forced out, was very gloomy. People are definitely very concerned about the future of the newspaper. On the other hand, we're still turning out a very good newspaper every day -- be it about election coverage or a lot of aggressive investigative stories we've been doing about problems with transplants and a host of other subjects that I could name. So people are carrying on, but they are certainly concerned about what the future holds....
The Tribune is sending in as an editor their current managing editor, Jim O'Shea, who has a very good reputation as a journalist for many years -- local correspondent, national correspondent, foreign correspondent, author of a fine book on the savings and loan scandal. But he's obviously coming into a newsroom that has a lot of people that are very upset, and it will be a very significant management challenge for him. As to how that translates, and how it plays out, I think it's just too early to tell....
I think one thing that we have not done nearly well enough, and I don't think it's just us, is to have a more public presence. Journalists are, I think, generally reluctant to sort of hawk themselves. We, at least out here in L.A., most of us rarely appear on television. It's a different environment than Washington, where you have a lot of journalists on television. But I think we need to have a more public presence, and I think we need to work on that.