Laurie Winer was on the staff of the Los Angeles Times magazine during the period when Jim O'Shea came in from Chicago to edit the paper and Sam Zell, also a Chicagoan, assumed ownership of the Tribune Company. In the course of reviewing O'Shea's book, "The Deal From Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers," for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Winer also recounts the Zell years in a lengthy piece titled Zell to L.A. Times: Drop Dead." Subtitle: On the Dismantling of a Once Great Newspaper.
By the way, here's the link to my (much shorter) review of O'Shea's book for Columbia Journalism Review, earlier this year. A note about the photos here. They show the remaining evidence of an episode O'Shea describes, a "smell test" of Times' newsprint commissioned by pre-Tribune publisher and CEO Mark Willes. A bunch of us editors were brought upstairs and told to sniff different boxes of shredded newspaper, from the Times and elsewhere. Sure enough, the Times' mix of recycled paper and ink smelled pretty rancid. The box of shredded LAT survives, a dozen years later, in the home of a former staffer in Los Angeles. I recently re-sniffed it (the scent has faded...) and snapped some iPhone pictures.
An excerpt from Winer's piece is below.
Among other things, the book is a reminder that whenever you think things can’t get worse, they can. They can get much, much worse.
I was there, at the paper, working at the magazine, with a good critic’s seat, up close and on the aisle. As we were living it, we knew this tawdry drama signaled yet another sea change for newspapers, with potentially devastating consequences for our democracy. It was also, thanks to Zell and his cronies, more entertaining than it had any right to be.
The end of the story is in the beginning. But where is the beginning? Orwell aside, let’s say it was 1984.
Photos: LA Observed