I'm a week late in noticing Hugh Hewitt's blog essay, but the talk show host and author offers a bunch of tips under the provocative rubric of "the Los Angeles Times could be a great, great news organization – if it would only give up pretending to be a great newspaper."
First, shift massive resources to the online edition. There are hundreds of reporters at Spring Street and various affiliated locales, but their story quota is, what, three bylines a week? Redirect 50% or more of these staffers to producing two stories a day and fire those who can’t produce. 3,000 to 4,000 words a week isn’t at all difficult, but it does require the work ethic of a college student.
Next, once the story pipeline is filled –all of them being published immediately after editing to the web and not being delayed until the glop edition—identify the best four to six reporters from each section and make them web only. That’s right. Put your best talent in the service of the new medium....
If the Times had ten to fifteen continually updated and bylined blogs by their best reporters, I’d be checking those blogs repeatedly during the day. There are five tool reporters on the staffs of every newspaper, but they are being played every third day instead of three or four times a day. Use them. Inform and entertain us!
Some specifics after the jump.
After the basic revamp is in place, ask the toughest question of all: What can we do that no one else can do? In LA it is the business, first, second, and forever. The Times doesn’t want to be People, but it can be the first and last word on the American culture machine, though it has never seriously tried to be. It cannot compete with the Washington Post on politics and government, but no one can compete with the Times in covering the culture machine in all of its features, if the Times would only try.
Nor could anyone match the paper if it really wanted to cover the biggest state in the union in all of its glorious dysfunction in Sacramento or prodigious productivity in high tech. Nine-tenths of every current issue of the paper consists of stories that high school papers could produce instead of unique content that must be read because it is the best reporting on sectors and stories that only a talented and experienced California-based reporter could find and report fairly and fully.
There are technologies to deploy as well.
Show us how many people click on each story. Talk about the market sorting the wheat from the chaff. If a story is unread online, doesn’t that mean a tree fell in a forest and nobody heard it?
And demand interactivity from your writers, but not in the closeted “I’ll respond to the mail I can handle” fashion that reporters tell themselves distinguishes them for “courage.” If a columnist or reporter gets buried in harsh blowback , publish the blowback (less the vulgarity.) That is transparency. Everything else is spin.
Dump the snores. Who reads the book section, really? Review books that people read, and do it online.
Don’t publish game summaries of the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers and Angels – who reads those? The sports junkies got their news hours ago. Give the reader commentary, rumor, and calumny, and lots of readers’ boards.
When it comes to “opinion,” publish most of the paper’s commentary from writers inside of zip codes in which you deliver. Drop the anonymous pulse-killers of the unsigned editorials. Give them bylines or let them go. And please, no more out-of-state professors.
He urges the Times hire Patterico, William Bradley and Cathy Seipp, and also brings us up in the form of a recommnendation: "Roderick ticks me off at least once a month, but he’s the go-to-guy for LA, the single best city-specific blog in America, and you are trying to invent what he has already perfected."