Lee Abrams, Tribune Company’s chief innovation officer, doesn’t seem too impressed with the Los Angeles Times.
That’s the feeling I got when he appeared at the Los Angeles Press Club Thursday night on a panel with Ron Kaye, the former editor of the Daily News and club vice president Ezra Palmer.
Abrams is a round-faced, curly headed man. His attire was casual —jeans and a zippered blue sweater. His manner was pleasant; his voice surprisingly soft He doesn’t speak in the capital letters he uses in his memos.
But he does talk in the clichés of the media world. He wants stories that reflect the city, told with emotion, displayed with flair. Heart- tugging stories. Laugh-making stories. Or, as I used to think when I headed to the city desk each morning, give them “a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.”
The Times obviously wasn’t giving him all of what he wanted. Abrams, fresh from a visit to Times publisher Eddy Hartenstein and editor Russ Stanton, said the Times has “ a lot of baggage and a lot of friction and they will get through it.” The paper, he said at another point, is “not there” but “will get there.”
“In a year, it will be a pretty hot newspaper,” he said. The Times crew is “working at it but it is hard.” They must “make it happen but it’s going to happen slower” than he would like.
He likes the Sunday Times. “If they could do 365 days a year what they did on the last two Sundays, it would be great,” he said. He didn’t mention what Sunday stories or displays caught his fancy.
And, he doesn’t seem to think the Times shows its wares very well. As an example, he said entertainment business news is scattered around the paper. “Compartmentalize it, put it in one place,” he said
“I think they have the talent,” he said. “It is just how it is packaged and put together. It is called noticeability. It is just not noticeable.”
And finally he believes you can do a better job with a smaller staff. “I don’t think the L.A. Times has gotten there yet,” he said. The Chicago Tribune, on the other hand, “learned how to be better with a smaller staff.” He said Tribune staff members are so enthusiastic over the changes that “people are high fiving.”
After hearing Abrams, my advice to the remaining Times staff is to read the Chicago Tribune every day, dig out the last two Sunday editions of the Times and try to figure out what exactly he’s talking about. And let’s have more of those high fives.