Los Angeles Times Editor Davan Maharaj has just dropped a memo on the newsroom that declares a new era in how the Times approaches news. I've been hearing that Maharaj was working on a big message intended to chart out a more digital future. In the memo, he says it's liberating that Times readers can now get a lot of their news from other sources. If you are a reader of the print LA Times, this may not be a welcome development.
"Here’s what we must leave behind," Maharaj writes. "Stories that have no public-service purpose, routine news stories that merely duplicate work that is available elsewhere -- and publishing practices that no longer serve an increasingly digital audience." What those practices are remain to be seen.
This memo is being received, by at least some inside the building, as preparation for the buyout offer expected soon. As in, those who don't want to embrace an even more fully digital future might want to leave and here's your chance. Perhaps your last chance. The question, as always with the LA Times, is not whether the digital world will be embraced but whether the approach will be thought-out and executed with confidence and high journalism standards, or yielded to techies with web skills and culture but not a lot of journalism savvy or commitment to Los Angeles. The newspaper brands that are way ahead of the LA Times in the digital evolution, such as the Guardian and the New York Times, don't flail and let the hunt for cheap eyeballs drive everything. Same on the ad side. You don't have to let every movie studio experiment on your front page. At least the top news outlets don't. Today's home-delivered LA Times, by the way, was completely wrapped in an ad that was allowed to use the Times logo and flag.
The Maharaj memo:
From: Maharaj, Davan
Sent: Tuesday, September 22, 2015 12:22 PM
Subject: Moving forward
Over the last several years, our newsroom has embraced change -- a lot of it. The ways that our readers learn about their communities, this state and the world continue to change even faster. To stay vital to their lives, we need to accelerate our evolution.
Over the next couple of months, we will begin organizing our newsroom to meet that challenge, drawing upon discussions and strategy sessions that have been ongoing since early this year.
Our goal is to build a newsroom around the needs of our audience. We must recognize that they are mobile, diverse and voracious consumers. That means being faster and more flexible in making coverage decisions. That means publishing news in real time and employing varied forms of storytelling, including narrative, analysis, video, photography and graphics. That means recruiting everyone, not only newcomers to the newsroom but also our best and most experienced reporters and editors, in putting our work online when readers are looking for it.
Organizing ourselves for the online world also means realizing that nearly all the world’s journalism, the stories we read every day, are available through a variety of news outlets and accessible to readers with merely a click. That’s a liberating fact. By selecting the stories we must be competitive on, we will be free to use our resources for work that is original, high quality and focused on the interests and needs of California and its communities.
Here’s what will not change: Our commitment to accountability journalism, our determination to be the preeminent source of news for and about California, our ambition to meet the highest standards of quality, accuracy and fairness, and our goal of making readers smarter, better informed citizens.
Here’s what we must leave behind: Stories that have no public-service purpose, routine news stories that merely duplicate work that is available elsewhere -- and publishing practices that no longer serve an increasingly digital audience.
Yes, we have seen a lot of change, and we continue to have one of the country’s great news organizations. Maintaining our tradition and securing our future require meeting these goals with a sense of urgency and determination.
Over the next few days, we will announce changes in how we deploy personnel, schedule stories and plan coverage. I am keenly aware of, and deeply grateful for, how much everyone has done to make this a 24/7 operation. Now we need your help more than ever.
* Added: Tribune Publishing CEO Jack Griffin held a call with Wall Street analysts, blamed Austin Beutner for the company's troubles without naming him, and said Timothy Ryan is the right publisher for Los Angeles. "Tim Ryan is the ideal choice to move our California business forward while building on the journalistic heritage of the Los Angeles Times and ensuring financial success," Griffin said per Politico Media.
And this: Mickey Kantor tells the San Fernando Valley Business Journal (?) that he's in talks with potential bidders for the Times in addition to the previously mentioned Beutner and Eli Broad.