Foreign editor steps aside at LAT

Marjorie Miller says it's her call to return to reporting and that the new management team at the L.A. Times should get to name its own foreign editor. Memos here from her and editor Russ Stanton; she writes, "Foreign reporting is the heart and soul of the Los Angeles Times." Also, Kim Murphy is rotating back to the U.S. from London and Henry Chu will take over as London bureau chief.

Also: Tribune bosses Sam Zell and Randy Michaels finally reveal today their agenda for the Times. The plan is to cut way back on pages so the ratio of space devoted to ads and content is 50-50 and to reduce staffers based on the theory that they are less "productive" at the LAT than at smaller papers. Ugh. Zell and Michaels seem to think that covering the world, Washington and in-depth investigations should take no more time and resources than the crap their other papers churn out. It doesn't work that way. Basically, it sounds as if they have learned nothing from the generations of newspaper editors and publishers who figured it out before — and who actually made tons of money doing it. The Zell long-range model now looks to be less content and less exclusive content, with less depth to that content, produced by less experienced people and delivered to readers in less attractive packages. Yeah, the magic formula to turn around the spiral.

Today's message from Zell after the jump

From: Talk to Sam
Sent: Thursday, June 05, 2008 1:32 PM
Subject: Recap of first quarter 2008 earnings call


Instead of recapping our first quarter numbers, which you can see in our news release online, we want to get to the heart of what we’re sure all of you are focused on after our earnings call today – our discussion around the changing business model for publishing.

What has become clear as we have gotten intimately familiar with the business is that the model for newspapers no longer works. Supply and demand are not in balance, and that manifests itself in two ways:

1. We are not giving readers what they want, and

2. We are printing bigger papers than we can afford to print
First, our publishing business – and to reiterate, it IS a business – needs to retool itself to a customer-centric model. We have now reviewed dozens of reader studies done by Tribune over the years, and they present clear and consistent findings. Readers want:

- Unbiased, honest journalism
- LOCAL consumer and community news
- Maps, graphics, lists, ranking and stats

Some of our papers do some of these things well, and some of our papers do them better than others. But, ALL of our papers need to improve in this area. We’re in the business of satisfying customers, and we WILL respond to what they say they want.

The first paper to embrace this new customer-centric design will be the Orlando Sentinel, and it will debut on June 22. You’ll see all of our papers incorporate some level of redesign by the end of September.

Second, we must also strategically align the size of the paper we produce with what advertisers want. We will be assuming a 50/50 ad-to-editorial ratio base as a floor to right-size our papers. With that benchmark we can significantly scale back the size of the papers we print, and take significant costs out of our operating run rate.

We must find the balance between producing excellent products and producing products we can afford. And, we will find it.

We’d also like to mention interactive, which will be a primary source of revenue in our future. We are in the final stage of developing a platform for our websites that will enable us to take advantage of all the opportunities on the web – from e-commerce to social networking to selling key words and other activities.

This new product will come to each of the business units fully loaded and ready for prime time. It will be a simple tool kit that is pre-populated, but you’ll be able to customize and design it for your market, and your individual audiences. But the new sites will come with a budget, and with the expectation that they will be fully leveraged to generate revenue.

The new websites will roll out to the TV stations first, and we expect this phase to be completed by the end of August. Within the coming year, our papers will have transitioned to the new sites as well. You can preview a sample of this product line at KPLR-TV in St. Louis at

We started this year by rattling the cages, and since then we’ve continued to reinforce the urgency for change. We expect by now you understand the ‘do-or-die’ challenge that has been placed in front of us. We now have a roadmap to turn that challenge into opportunity.

Sam & Randy

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