David Lauter, California editor of the L.A. Times, has been replying to readers upset at the latest dropping of Al Martinez' column. Lauter's reply was posted online by the paper, two days after Editor Russ Stanton confirmed the news I'd reported on Wednesday. Lauter adds more meat:
As everyone knows, we're in the midst of the worst economic slowdown since the 1930s. Newspaper revenue, which comes overwhelmingly from advertising, is way down and is likely to drop even further over the course of the year as stores go out of business and those that remain cut back on the number of ads they run. As a result, we have to find ways to economize. And that means we have to make difficult choices. As California Editor, I've been happy to have Al's column in my section. He's a good man and a fine writer, and he's been part of the Times for many years. But my primary mission has to be news coverage. So when I'm looking at the budget, I have to weigh Al's column against things like keeping our Sacramento bureau operating to tell you and other readers what the governor and legislature are up to, or reserving money to buy fire gear to protect our reporters and photographers when they are in the field covering Southern California's repeated wildfires.
We know that Al's column has many fans among our readers. Indeed, everything that we publish has fans. There is no way to make cuts without angering someone. I wish money were plentiful and we didn't have to make choices like this. But I can't change the economic realities we live with, and they are difficult. This is a year in which a number of newspapers around the country likely will go out of business altogether. The Times is not in that category, but we have to act prudently to make sure we never get to that point.
Well, also continuing in lieu of Martinez are a blog about pets, a reporter dedicated to celebrity justice, etc. Not arguing, just saying. It's at the Times' Readers' Rep blog. Meanwhile, author Daniel A. Olivas has written the Times to protest:
Just when I thought the Times couldn't anger me more, I've just learned that Al Martinez has been "downsized" and will stop writing for the Times this month. We already went through this once before but luckily the Times reconsidered its decision after reader outcry. So what's changed since then? Is he that expensive to keep on payroll? Is he considered too old or not hip enough to attract ad revenue? I'd vote to cutting fashion coverage over cutting intelligence and eloquence. The Sunday Book Review has already been decimated. Does the Times want to become a clone of USA Today? Well, it's almost there. I hope that the Times will reconsider this decision.
Olivas also posts about it at La Bloga.
* Today's Martinez column: His daughter has cancer and he writes, "I'm putting her name in print today so that you can tell me stories of your own fight against cancer; so you can help our family find the strength and courage to defeat the enemy within." Also, Martinez's email to friends.