I had a feeling the decision makers at the Times were clueless that an outcry — from the paper's most loyal but ever more perturbed reader niche, no less — would follow the dumping of 77-year-old columnist Al Martinez. A bylined story on the buyouts in yesterday's paper admitted to at least 300 e-mails, phone calls and letters of protest and a hurry-up get acquainted meeting between Martinez and editor in chief Jim O'Shea. (Here's a selection of last week's email to LA Observed.) Now Celeste Fremon, a Topanga neighbor of Al's, posts at WitnessLA that Martinez has been told his column may continue once a week in a new spot. His email credits pressure from fans, which included a blitz by members of the Topanga Democratic Club.
You guys have achieved something rare, which is the reversal of a decision by a major newspaper. They have asked for the return of my column once a week, possibly in op ed. If they come up with the right deal in the right place, I shall return, to quote a guy once kicked off an island. Thanks for letting the Times know that we’re all tired of their bad decisions. We’ll see what happens now. P.S.: They have received thousands of emails, not 300. I have received 1,500 so far. The email boxes of readers.rep, publisher david hiller and jim o’shea are so full they won’t accept anymore emails. but keep up the pressure. it’s good for them to know.
And you have my gratitude. P.S.: Note that my email address is now email@example.com.
Fremon adds that her favorite blast at the Times came from respected author Carolyn See, another Topangan, who used to review books for the LAT:
So I hear you guys forced out Al Martinez. Good going! Too bad Jack Smith, Matt Weinstock and Art Seidenbaum aren’t alive so you can fire them too.
Why don’t you just cut to the chase, close down the paper and go back to Chicago where you can get back to slaughtering hogs and drinking bad scotch or whatever it is you do there?
It's all a reminder that the trick for the Times to survive is not attracting younger readers — but enticing new readers while retaining any newspaper's natural base of older, more educated and affluent readers. If my email and conversations around town are any indication, the Times' waning influence as a go-to news source and continuing series of bizarre internal twists — publishers and editors hired and fired, sections started and abandoned, blogs launched and killed, top names fleeing, Manhattan projects, ugly spats (and again), shoot from the hip redesigns, the publisher yelling fire — keeps convincing the city's most serious and sophisticated community players and news consumers to seek their news elsewhere. That doesn't even count the screams on the right and left from ex-readers who believe the Times unfairly skews against them. It's hard not to sense that if two or three more big advertisers — Target? Staples? Office Max? — give up on the Times, watch out below.
Related note?: May, our fourth anniversary, was LA Observed's biggest month ever for visits and pages viewed.