Barbarians far inside the gate

The Vandals, the Goths, the Saxons…the Zells? A tribe of one, but hey, a billionaire can hire his own legions of destroyers. The latest round of L.A. Times cuts, which has decimated the paper’s cultural coverage, strikes me, for purely selfish reasons, as particularly repellent. It’s no exaggeration to say that I worked there during the Times’ Golden Age (1985-95), when Emperor Shelby ruled both benevolently and wisely and Timesian legions armed with notepads marched into the Inland Empire, Ventura and Orange County. Barbarians have been pillaging and plundering inside the gate for a long time, but this week they’re setting fire to the Bayeux tapestries, the Louis XIV furniture and the Renaissance paintings, just to collect the fractional insurance money.

Scott Timberg and Lynell George were two of the most astute cultural writers at the paper. Scott’s coverage was both elegant and enlightening, he understood how the arts shape a city and vice versa. Lynell was hands down, the most lyrical writer the paper ever brought on board, her stories thrummed with be-bop and salsa, with the exhilaration of driving 80 m.p.h. on the L.A. freeway at 3 a.m. when it’s almost a religious experience.

I’m also troubled that the departures include many reporters of color: John Mitchell, Lynell, Francisco Vara-Orta, Swati Pandey and Augustin Gurza. In a city that’s majority minority, which is hailed by the entire world as a kaleidescopic Petri dish of our collective future, shouldn’t the paper be trying to expand these voices, not contract them?

These are writers who interpret our city for us, who read the entrails and try to make sense of it, then write it up for the morning paper. Can their combined salaries amount to even one-tenth of 1% of what Zell has spent promoting himself and suing his enemies?

But alas poor Yorick, the court is sundered, its members scattered far from the smoking, ash-covered kingdom. There’s something epic and Shakespearian about the scope of this destruction, the zeal and near glee against which the dismantling of a great paper proceeds. And it’s insulting when such gutting is repackaged by Times mouthpieces, those capering court jesters, as a good thing. Is there anyone, apart from the bean counters, who really believes that?

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