The announcement that Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers, is planning to lay off almost 700 employees and centralize important business operations is bad news not only to the workers but to Times readers.
For readers, advertising is the most important aspect of the centralization. It means that one central advertising department will control relations with advertisers.
This is a bad development in view of current trends in the media business. The wall that once separated advertising from editorial has all but disappeared. The Los Angeles Times’ staff fight to keep that wall up during the Staples-Times magazine controversy of more than a decade ago is ancient history from an era when many news organizations had higher standards. Today, we have “native advertising.” That’s what they call advertising that looks like news. You see this in the Times phony front-pages it runs on occasion. In other publications and web sites, it is inserted into columns and news stories.
With centralized control, advertisers have the opportunity to make deals for native advertising. Eventually, this may drift into news coverage with product plugs inserted into columns and stories, as the revenue-strapped Tribune searches for more bucks. What if the central advertising department hands down decrees to the Tribune papers on how and what to write about advertisers? With layers of bureaucracy separating them from the corporate shot callers, reporters won’t know what hit them.
In his announcement, the Tribune chief executive said the 700 layoffs wouldn’t involve many reporters. That’s hard to believe. Tribune’s main goal is not getting the news, but stripping down the company for sale.