Times of our times: Publishers on parade

In happier days, the masthead atop the Los Angeles Times editorial page proudly displayed the names of the newspaper's past and present publishers — and their years in power — next to that symbol of courage and strength, the eagle.

It was a short list for a long time because just five men ruled the newspaper from 1881 to 1989: founder Harrison Gray Otis, Otis' three Chandler descendants, and their successor, Tom Johnson.

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Then, in the 1990s, as the Times' financial troubles mounted, there began a sort of Publishers on Parade. Five men and one woman occupied the office in the next 17 years.
And odd things began to happen to that ever-growing, embarrassing roster of exes on the editorial page.

The newspaper began tinkering with it.

Some years, some past publishers would be omitted.

Or the names of the departed ones would be moved away from the masthead and buried at the bottom in tiny print in a one-column footnote.

An unexpected lengthening of the list occurred when the name of Mark H. Willes appeared both at the top of the list (as publisher) and at the bottom to call attention to his three other jobs (CEO, chairman, president). A 4-tool player, as they say in baseball!

2006footnotes-sh.jpgIn the mid-2000s, there was a reunion of sorts. The whole gang reappeared on the editorial page, though in two platoons. Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson was at the top, alongside the trusty eagle; his 10 predecessors (including multitasking Willes) were at the bottom of the page in the footnote (under the "How to write to us" box).

But the list continued to grow.

Would it never stop? Then someone had an inspiration. Fire the list!

In 2007, during the reign of David Hiller, the Chicago Tribune Co.'s man at Times Mirror Square, the names of all past publishers were erased from the editorial page, including Otis and his relations.

Poof: 126 years of history, gone. Perhaps someone pointed out that a little SOMETHING about the Times' past should be mentioned in the masthead. So the line "Founded December 4, 1881" was added. Wow, 1881. Talk about a stable business! Meanwhile, Timothy E. Ryan, the newest Times boss, can be found in the masthead, along with his subordinates, and the eagle. But the ex-publishers are still missing.

As always, the eagle's gaze is unblinking.

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