A mini-profile of L.A. Times publisher David Hiller in tomorrow's New York Times leads with the idea that he's star-struck by the glamour of his adopted hometown. It's pegged to the 2006 episode where Hiller gushed over the paper buying a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for its 125th birthday. He apparently thought it was an "honor" and wanted the Times to cover it; editors talked him down. The paper's former city editor, Bill Boyarsky, wrote then at LA Observed after attending the ceremony:
The new publisher, David Hiller, was too awed, too loving of Hollywood, too much the visitor to town trying hard to impress, a presidential candidate on an early trip to Iowa. He didn't know LA. He didn't seem to understand that while a star on Hollywood Boulevard is OK, it's not an Oscar or a place in the baseball Hall of Fame.
You might think it doesn't much matter, but the NYT reporter writes that the incident "was cited repeatedly in interviews with current and former business executives, editors and reporters, nearly all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they said they feared retribution for speaking out." The story mostly covers the litany of moves already reported at LAO ad nauseam, and without saying so overtly makes clear that no one at the Times is under more pressure in the Sam Zell era of accountability than the newly-tieless lawyer from Chicago. He has convinced Zell that he's the architect of a leaner but more successful Times and now has to deliver.
But with the company scraping to meet heavy debt payments, Mr. Hiller faces the daunting task of showing his new bosses that he can turn around a paper hit by an industrywide contraction, a California real estate slump and internal dissension.
Within The Times, however, many employees dismiss Mr. Hiller, 53, as a star-struck outsider, a meddler in the newsroom who does not understand journalism or Los Angeles.
Here's a kernel of insight into Hiller's impact so far. In 1999, the editor lost his job — and the Times became the scorn of journalism — for agreeing to share profits in a Sunday magazine issue with Staples Center, the issue's subject. Now, Hiller is considering moving the entire magazine under the marketing department.
Hiller's Hollywood lust: He also grabbed the paper's Oscar tickets last year for himself — he took his mother — and after Johnny Grant died recently the publisher used his in-house blog to mourn the loss of Mr. Hollywood. His penchant to break into song also makes the NYT piece, but Hiller has a good quip: "I’m hoping the Dodgers or the Angels are going to invite me to sing the national anthem this year."
Photo: Stephanie Diani / New York Times