L.A. Times sells out deadline news to WSJ

Today's machinations at the Los Angeles Times are about the financially stumbling paper selling the prime time on its Los Angeles presses to the Wall Street Journal, according to newsroom sources. The paying customer — the WSJ — gets the preferential later press run under the plan approved by Publisher Eddy Hartenstein. Another way to put it is, for Wall Street Journal subscribers to get the benefit of later news deadlines, LAT subscribers have to accept a more inferior print product. Great ad slogan, eh? "Epic retreat," I heard one former Times executive call it. Just last January, Editor Russ Stanton was glowing about getting later Calendar deadlines. Now they are moving the other way, and by a lot.

Here's why.

With the Times closing its Orange County presses to save money, both the WSJ press run for hire and the LAT's own run have to fit on the same presses. Somebody had to move to the less desirable time, and Hartenstein decided it would be his paper. This forces the entire news-gathering process to advance earlier in the day — not necessarily bad, except on breaking news or developing stories.

I'm hearing that the Times' off-the-composing-floor deadline of 11 p.m. (with updates until midnight) for the front news section will move earlier by several hours, perhaps to 6 p.m. This would be, I'm pretty sure, the earliest regular deadline in the paper's modern history — at a time when the pressure to be fresher and newsier is greater. It might also mean that the New York Times' deadline for getting breaking news from California onto its front page will be later than the hometown LAT's.

Under the Hartenstein plan, big news that happens late won't be on the front page or even in the A section — which, remember, is now also the LAT's only local news section. Late news will run in a new section-lite being called AA — and branded as LATExtra. For now, at least, Stanton is telling the newsroom that AA will usually run behind the front section, not wrapped around the front page. Stanton's sales pitch today to skeptical editors and reporters was that the trade-off would have been more layoffs.

The new section sounds awkward at best, and potentially horrid. Of course, breaking news will still have a home on LATimes.com, but those readers don't pay the bills. Even online the LAT's readership base lags way behind both the NYT and the WSJ, and the trend isn't good despite efforts to lure clicks with eye candy and celebrity gossip. Making the morning paper staler by several hours sounds like a funny way to reverse the decline. Sports, by the way, apparently will keep its later deadlines.

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