Déjà vu: LA Times under Beutner restores California section

Thumbnail image for latimes-building-aerial-tig.jpg
LA Times building at 1st and Spring streets. LA Observed file photo

Austin Beutner's first big move as publisher of the Los Angeles Times is to restore the California news section that his predecessor famously (or notoriously) shut down in 2009. The section will replace the confusing LATExtra section starting Tuesday. Staffers are being called together at noon to hear from Beutner about his plans to "reinvest in the core mission," meaning in this case California and Los Angeles news. There's a news release from the paper below, plus Beutner was on NBC News Conference on Sunday telling Conan Nolan about the plans. Beutner says the Times currently has 500 journalists and will be fine under the new ownership of start-up Tribune Publishing: "We can survive and prosper and do our job in this environment."

I still heard from readers who missed the California section, but longtime readers will remember that the section itself was controversial when the John Carroll-Dean Baquet regime that arrived in 2000 replaced the local Metro section with California. Not too long ago, the Times had a Metro section behind the front A section, a State and Region page on the third page of the A section where the state columnists and Sacramento news were featured, and a roster of even-more-local sections serving the Valley, the Central City, Orange County, San Diego and other areas.

As for the California section, Beutner said it will allow more focus on local news and he revealed something interesting about his biases regarding the paper and journalism. "We first and foremost have to own the conversation about Los Angeles and California," Beutner said. He suggested the data shows that online readers want short digest items of a couple hundred words, or longform stories over 1,000 words, but not so much the mid-range 500-700 word stories that the Times provides scads of. He said the paper will move away from the mid-range stories, which sounds to me like cutting back a lot of current news stories to briefs or blog items. Interesting to see how that goes over. It's already impossible to browse back through the Times website for a detailed look at what they covered locally two or three or five days ago. The bias now is to provide a fresh look every hour or so in hopes of snagging clicks from readers who com back a lot and puff up the stats. Sounds like, in the end, less local news of consequence in the paper and on the website, but Beutner insists the new section will mean "more" so we'll see.

On a side note, Beutner told Nolan that he still supports Bobby Shriver personally for Supervisor but saw consensus on the editorial board for Sheila Kuehl and chose not to veto the recent endorsement of Kuehl.

The California section will aggregate and display the columnists such as Steve Lopez and Sandy Banks who have been kind of lost inside the A section, and will also include weather, obits and other features. If it feels familiar, it is. When the Los Angeles Times axed the California section in 2009, over "the unanimous and vocal objections of senior editors" as I said at the time, publisher Eddy Hartenstein and the paper's flacks tried to bill it as good news. They said it would create a place to put late news — at the same time as they decreed earlier deadlines so the presses could be run with smaller crews and the Times could print the local editions of the Wall Street Journal. I don't know how this new section will affect deadlines, but Beutner seemed to dismiss the last regime's decision. "LATExtra only means something to those who work in the printing plant," he said.

Here's Beutner's email to the newsroom this morning:

From: "Beutner, Austin M"
Date: October 20, 2014 at 6:48:32 AM PDT
To: AllLosAngelesTimesEmployees
Subject: Los Angeles Times Introduces New California Section

Colleagues –

Today brings big news of the launch of The Times’ daily California section.

We will celebrate in-person at Noon and get all the details from Davan and his team.

In the meantime, we have attached the public announcement that will be distributed shortly, as well as my letter to our readers.

This is an exciting time as we invest additional resources in our core mission.

See you in the Chandler Auditorium at 12pm.


The Times' release:

The Los Angeles Times is enriching its print edition and digital report with the launch tomorrow of a daily California section. The new section is dedicated to the news and analysis essential to navigating life in the Southland and across the Golden State. California will cover California as only The Times can, with a focus on local and statewide news, analysis and feature stories, as well as commentary from its award-winning columnists.

“California, the nation’s most vital melting pot, is where America comes to see its future. Here in Los Angeles, almost 200 languages and dialects are spoken every day. We stand on the edge of a continent, a window to Asia and Latin America, constantly pushing boundaries in art, science, politics and culture,” said Times publisher Austin Beutner. “No matter where the news is breaking – in Sacramento or just down the street – California will help frame readers’ perspective on the latest trends and discoveries in our community and the state. It will present the news with the timeliness, insight, intelligence and balance that it deserves.”

“We’ve been reporting on and about one of the world’s most influential regions for more than 132 years,” said editor Davan Maharaj. “With the launch of California, we are sharpening and deepening our coverage – with exclusive enterprise reporting, watchdog journalism, vital data, and distinctive local reporting from across the state.”
Highlights of the section include:

· Los Angeles city and county news with in-depth coverage of key government institutions
· New analytical takes on goings-on at City Hall, the state’s political landscape, higher learning and education, science and California’s impact beyond its borders
· Signature columnists: Sandy Banks, Steve Lopez, George Skelton and Robin Abcarian
· Distinct local City Beat stories, images from The Times’ extensive photo archives and dispatches from the Homicide Report
· Coverage from Times reporters across the state, including Sacramento, San Francisco, Fresno, Ventura, Orange County and San Diego
· Q&As, graphics, document markups and by-the-numbers features that help put news in context
· Obituaries and a new online database
· The weather

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