One of the most interesting moments in Sewell Chan's talk to Los Angeles Times alums was prompted by a question from Bob Rawitch, a retired Times editor who had been responsible for news coverage in the hundreds of miles of diverse suburbs served by the paper.
Chan, Times deputy managing editor for news, spoke to the OFS monthly gathering of Times retirees Saturday at Victorio's Ristorante in the San Fernando Valley. He talked at length of the paper's efforts to reach all parts of the region's diverse population, filled with younger people who don't run out to the driveway for the paper, as their parents and grandparents did.
Chan is a key member of the team that owner Patrick Soon-Shiong and editor Norm Pearlstine are assembling to rebuild the paper so it can be a journalism force in the era when most Times readers will get their news on-line.
"We are not reaching as many people as we could," Chan said, He talked about efforts to increase the number of online subscribers, efforts hampered by the reluctance of new customers to sign up with the Times. Or they quickly drop their subscriptions when they do.
"I'm discouraged," said Rawitch, who was suburban editor and then executive editor of the Valley and Ventura editions. "Much of what you are saying was true 30 years ago." Noting that Chan had spoken of the new team's drive to get more readers in the Latino, Asian American and African American communities, Rawitch recalled many meetings and campaigns to do the same. And at that time, news was limited to the Times, the Herald, the Daily News, a few other suburban papers and local television and radio.
"You are trying to make the paper indispensible when people can get the news elsewhere," he said. He said, "it almost seems insoluble."
Insoluble was a word Chan wasn't ready to accept. He conceded "journalism is going through a wrenching transformation." The task ahead "is daunting." But the Times, he said, now has "a public spirited owner with a long-term commitment" and will be up to the challenge of covering "one of the most important cities of the 21st Century."
Chan got several tough questions, such as why there are so few ads in the new food section. He answered them all in a friendly, open manner. He concluded by requesting the alums to keep track of what's happening at their old paper. Their help, and connections in the community, were needed.
Such reaching out is a big change from the pre-Soon-Shiong era, when the erratic ownership had no connection with L.A. or even much of the journalism world.