LAT

Rachlis: 'I miss the LAT already'

Los Angeles editor Kit Rachlis was an editor at the Los Angeles Times for six-plus years, mostly helping craft the kinds of narrative stories that fed the paper's reputation for ambitious journalism that other papers weren't doing. He devotes his editor's note in the magazine's August issue to forecasting the end of that Times. His analysis is direct — and devastating:

When historians get around to 2008, itís likely they will say it was the year the Los Angeles Times died. No, I donít think the paper will fold between now and December. But I do fear the paper will be so diminished, so crippled, that the chance of saving it will have slipped away. Iím aware that there are residents in L.A. who are cheering this prospect. The Times engenders more hostility than any daily paper I know of; in the view of its critics, the Times is an arrogant, liberal behemoth that deserves whatever fate befalls it. But for most people, the collapse of the Times is a tragedy. Over the course of 30 years it was one of the three or four best papers in the country. Its rise didnít just mirror the transformation of L.A.; it went hand in hand.

Journalists have a terrible tendency to be sentimental, so I want to be careful not to romanticize the Times. As good as the paper has been, itís always had galling limitations (I say this as someone who worked there for six and a half years): an opinion section that rarely generated heat; a record of ignoring wide swaths of the region; a disinterest in local politics. Still, for all its flaws (and my list, Iím sure, is different from yours), few newspapers have matched the Timesís ambition and reach. Now that ambition has vanished. According to sources, Zellís ultimate plan is to reduce the paperís daily circulation to 500,000 (at its height, in 2001, it was 1.2 million) and its staff to 600 (half of what it was in 2004). To make the ratio of editorial to advertising pages equal, the paper will cut 82 pages of news each weekóor to put it in starker terms, the Times will lose 4,000 editorial pages in one year.

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Even papers with committed ownerships, like The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, are struggling. Whatís required is something not usually found in American corporations: the strength to weather at least four or five more years of uncertainty; a willingness to experiment like crazy; and a belief that whatís being provided is more than just a business. The Times, on the other hand, has chosen to slash the paper and invest too little too late in the Web. It is hard to imagine a worse course. I will miss the Times, but the truth is that when I pick up the paper every morning, I miss it already.

Rachlis moderates an Aug. 14 forum I'm part of, called "L.A. Without the Los Angeles Times,Ē through the Aloud program at the Los Angeles Public Library. More on that later.

Also in this issue: Tom Carson skewers Robert Scheer and his new book: "Any high school debater looking for inconvenient truths to lob at the waning Bush administration will find some helpful nuggets in these pages. As far as I can tell, though, there isnít one that Scheer has dug up on his own. Youíd never guess he first won renown as a dogged reporter and interviewer; The 'Pornography of Power' is the kind of indictment that seems Googled as much as written." And Amoeba Music won the magazine's Greatest Things About Los Angeles vote.


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