Both the current Los Angeles Times publisher, Austin Beutner, and his predecessor, Eddy Hartenstein, had pieces published Sunday in the content of the Times. Beutner took the left column on the op-ed page to announce that he is using his platform as publisher and chief executive to convene a sort-of LA Times book club — "The Times is launching Reading Los Angeles, an open invitation for readers to join me each month in reading books that can inform and broaden our thinking." OK, you don't know anything about Austin Beutner's connection to books (or much of anything about his interests) and neither do I. Should we as readers care what he thinks about books? Who knows. His writings are certainly not why anyone buys the paper, but he signs the checks. Here's what he put in the paper:
If journalism is the first draft of history, then books are the final cut. As much as I enjoy the portrait of our community that emerges in the daily work of the Los Angeles Times, I also value the opportunity to learn through the eyes of great authors.
From Raymond Chandler to Walter Mosley, from Joan Didion to Meghan Daum, our lives are enriched by the analysis and imagination of these skilled storytellers. Their books have the power not only to inform but also to inspire conversations and build communities….
Much as our new California section has opened doors to the issues and the newsmakers in the state, I hope our book club will shed light on the challenges and opportunities we face as Angelenos.
Each month, we will select a book; journalists and staff from the Times will moderate a discussion about the book, and, on occasion, we'll suggest other ways to explore the topic ranging from dining to arts and culture.
Ah, that last clause and the mention of Daum, an LA Times columnist, hint that at its heart this is less about books and reading — and readers — and more of a promotional exercise. Indeed, the first book recommended by Beutner is by one of his own employee's — Times reporter Jill Leovy's "Ghettoside," about murder in South Los Angeles. The Times has somewhat of a tradition of building publisher promotions around books — it puts on the annual Festival of Books at USC and used to invest serious marketing power in the Reading By Nine program, to push reading efforts in schools. These efforts come and go, while the news and editorial staffs generally try to avert their gaze. No books, authors or editors were harmed in the production of this book club, so this one might have legs with Beutner's backing. The highlighted web comment on the Times website right now takes the cynic's view: "Wow. The LA Times choosing a book written by one of its own people. Shocked! Never would have predicted this surprising selection."
Hartenstein's Sunday piece was grander in scope. The former publisher, now chairman of the board of Tribune Publishing — the Times' parent company — had his byline on one of the bigger packages to run recently in the LAT's shrunken Travel section. Hartenstein writes about traveling to Antarctica with his two adult sons, Carl and Christian. There's a full video and graphics treatment online, and Eddy Hartenstein narrates the video of their travels. He sums up at the end of his story:
Each day was a tsunami of photo opportunities. As a father, though, I was gratified to see my sons occasionally put down their camera gear and simply immerse themselves in an experience unlike any other.
We came home with plenty of photos, of course (but no selfies with polar bears — they live at the other pole). But the memory of our experiences in this nearly blank slate — largely unspoiled, wholly seductive — is the portrait we'll treasure for a lifetime.