Bob Carey is one of the Los Angeles Times photo staffers who were let go this week. Over at the Columbia Journalism Review, which is inviting parting journos to have their say, he analyzes where the Times went wrong in surrendering whatever cultural sway it had in Southern California:
Zell invented the financial quicksand we’re in at the moment, but our circulation loss is a self-inflicted wound: we stopped covering Southern California....
The old Times Mirror bosses were keenly aware that The New York Times drew half its circulation from outside New York City, but the Los Angeles Times got almost all of its circulation in Southern California. From about 1980 to 2000, the L.A. Times built bureaus in Orange County, the San Fernando Valley, Ventura County, and San Diego. I think we had about 500 reporters and photographers in those zones when Tribune took over.
[We] welcomed the Tribune guys with guarded optimism. Right from the start, they said they didn’t care about circulation the way Times Mirror did. They had some other metric, whatever that meant. No one dared criticize them when they shut down the zones and redeployed those 500 people elsewhere. We simply abandoned the suburbs, and there are a lot of those in Southern California.
The new California section focused on the City of Los Angeles. We covered the L.A. city council and the mayor, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the LAPD, and acted like, by doing so, we were covering politics, schools, and crime in the region. We won fifteen Pulitzer Prizes while we lost a third of our circulation. To be fair, we won Pulitzers on the mess at King Drew Medical Center and massive fires in the region. But, in general, we stopped covering the zones. One day, I pointed out that Antonio Villaraigosa was not, in fact, the mayor of the city I live in and that I really didn’t care about him. It wasn’t appreciated.
- Mother Jones' Steve Brodner devoted one of his cartoons of the day to departing LAT art director Tom Trapnell: "Tom is so great a gift to design and illustration to seem to be born to it. Firing him is a standout in a catalogue of sins."
- CityBeat Editor Rebecca Schoenkopf covered Times Editor Russ Stanton's talk at the Orange County Press Club and sympathized with his deer in the headlights look, but after he said environmental coverage would be a strength of the Downzelled Times she concluded: "I realized that Stanton – for all the sympathy we in the room had for him – was sort of full of shit."
- At the other end of the spectrum of exit emails, I'm told that longtime LAT features writer (and foroemr fashion editor) Bettijane Levine kept hers short: "Good-bye."