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LAT reader ponders protest

Tribune papers still make money ... lots of it. Now that the company has gone private, it isn't likely we'll ever know how much or how little. We can only take the word of company officials for how desperate the situation really is. The same applies to customer responses to redesigns and page loss. (Mr. Abrams declared that a mere eight Orlandians canceled their subscriptions following the redesign. So be it.)

It's also true that recent rounds of layoffs and buyouts didn't stop the LA Times from hiring younger, never-to-vested personnel to fill the holes in coverage left by the forced retirements. Will any of the recently hired be axed in the next round, or just the few remaining overly benefited geezers? The Times being historically hostile to union protections, it's probably safe to believe that the last hired will be the last fired. Even unionized employees on other newspapers have been tossed to the scrap heap, so that hasn't proven to be a reliable alternative.

One wonders, though, in the absence of a union, what clout Tribune's "employee-owners" have in determining their own fates, especially considering that their's is the larger financial commitment/risk. Will those folks laid off after the arrival of Zell et al now be ineligible to reap the benefits of any uptick in the company's resurgence, as promised, or will they be stuck with losses accrued in the years since TRB started its descent from $53/share? Will their sacrifices ever be rewarded in kind?

As owners, do the surviving employees have a say in management decisions or a voice on the board? Guess not.

So, what's to do? Wring hands and write woe-is-us emails to colleagues ... ask someone clever to create a streaming video giving the finger to the bosses ... or, fight back?

If, as is feared, the next round won't include buyouts -- just layoffs and firings -- the company may not require signed non-disclosure agreements, since there would be nothing to disclose. Hence, what could prevent the doomed -- or impacted advertisers and subscribers -- from encouraging some kind of direct action to salvage what's left of the product?

The last thing management can afford in the next 12 months is a diminishment of the company's revenue streams. Any disruption clearly would put into jeopardy scheduled interest payments to unforgiving banks. Big-city liberals, at least, could be asked to consider un-subscribing for a short period of time to protest the loss of news hole, coverage and features. If the actors and writers in LA can count on fellow unionists not to cross picket lines, might not they also support newspaper rank-and-file crying out for help? If space in Calendar is reduced, might not studios re-consider the environment in which their movie ads appear?

As a subscriber to the LA Times, I'm certainly not looking forward to a decimated product. Previous trims in coverage and the size of the broadsheet have not gone unnoticed, so why should we tolerate less? And, what about the sizable number of subscribers who aren't keen on the Internet ... how will they react to being marginalized even further? So far, the LA Times' website has been more concerned with reporting awards nominations -- available on tens of thousands of sites, via AP, Reuters and streaming video -- than covering local news and consumer issues.

In Chicago, where 150 years worth of Tribune editorial boards have taken a perverse pride in endorsing only GOP candidates for state and national offices -- even when they knew better -- why would supporters of Mr. Obama hesitate to show their displeasure with such an anti-Democrat, anti-labor, anti-consumer institution? Taking such stands may not be fashionable in the laissez-fair post-Reagan economic world, but, heck, it beats grinning and bearing every new indignity, from absurdly high gasoline prices (and profits) to spending trillions of dollars on a war to which few people even pay attention.

Readers of website have been asked to consider the pros and cons of a sick-out or byline-strike for sometime next week. Do readers even notice bylines and credit lines, anymore? They've become so generic in the last few months, it's now difficult to tell if the writer works primarily for the Times, Tribune, Sun or Courant. Apart from those of columnists, bylines can be disguised in an instant.

If newspapers can be bent, folded and mutilated to fit one mogul's financial strategy, what would prevent him from doing the same to his company's Internet news profile when the going also gets tough there. Presumably, humans and information will be expendable, then, too.

Just wondering.

Gary Dretzka

Dretzka is a columnist for Movie City News and a former correspondent for the Chicago Tribune.

Sunday, July 6 2008 • Link • Email this post • Submit an email
Danny Schechter on Mittelstaedt

Regarding an email that LA Observed published from ex-CityBeat news editor Alan Mittelstaedt, about the backstory behind a CityBeat piece on the credit crisis, the author of the piece replies:

Never mind that you didn't bother to get my side of this story. Never mind that this all-around self-justifying genius never bothered to tell me that the piece was rejected before he blared this self-righteous and self-justifying "disclosure" to you while calling my work into question without citing any specific flaws in my allegedly "deeply flawed" piece.

If this all around muckraker has muck to rake against Jay Levin, that is his right, but why use his obvious animosity to him to drag me into his muck or the ongoing soap opera at City Beat.

Yes, Jay asked me to write because my film "In Debt We Trust" (InDebtWe in a final updated form in 2007, not 2006-- was being promoted as important by KPFK. One of my concerns has been that when the film played in LA, none of the press there, mainstream or "alternative" bothered to review it or write about it. The issue was thought too obscure. Now its at the center of a global economic meltdown.

The issues I raised, considered "alarmist" by some, later led to the ongoing financial crisis. That fact that it was ignored does not make my reporting inaccurate. If anything I understated the calamity to come even as I was exposing subprime lending, a subject that most of our "all around" muckrakers ignored. Others have called me prescient but not the former news editor. He knew better!

I have since written a book "PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity" (Cosimo) that brings this story up to date. It also critiques the role of the press and attitudes such as the ones expressed to you but not to me by the AAB (All Around Bullshitter.)

As for the piece, it did have local stats on foreclosures and mounting debt from LA when I submitted it right after the Oscars. All of the data was then updated prior to publication. Levin did a first edit. I then updated it with an excellent editor at City Beat I went to the top expert on credit cards in the country.

I spent months begging to get paid.

My visit to cover students getting into hock in Rochester way back then (ha) is unfortunately not dated. It describes a problem that is still with us. It was certainly new to people who didn't see the film who unfortunately outnumber those who did.

Had super journalist Mittelstaedt (with his confusion over what's newsworthy only being what's new) had his way, the issues I raised would never have been published at all as if they are unimportant. Look around man,

I was treated like shit by he and his then editor who promised to get back to me and just strung me along, an experience that every freelancer will recognize. That's why I don't do this sort of thing often for pathetic fees. I prefer to blog on or post on Huffington Post. Your readers can decide for themselves how "flawed" my work is.

Danny Schechter

Sunday, July 6 2008 • Link • Email this post • Submit an email
Quitting her Times habit


Until a few months ago I was a life-long subscriber to The Times. Even when I lived out of Southern California, I kept up my subscription. And when I came back to L.A. and was experiencing a period when I had to be a lot more frugal than is currently the case, I kept up the subscription. And even as the coverage started to go downhill, as the paper became thinner, as in-depth reporting became more and more rare, as investigative reporting to a large extent became a casualty of the Chicago-driven management, I kept up my subscription.

Because The Times was an integral part of my daily life: it was THE place where I could get real news, written by top-notch reporters; it was the entity which I looked to to help me understand what was happening in the city, particularly in terms of local issues and local politics; it was the main vehicle for the public to be able to have eyes and ears watching out for the "public good" and fulfilling its role as part of the "Fourth Estate."

Finally, though, earlier this year, I had had enough. The paper had gone downhill so much that I pulled back to a Sunday-only subscription. This was a big decision for me -- a news junkie, someone with many friends (both past and current) at The Times and to whom I felt a sense of loyalty that had kept me from not wanting to disrespect them in any fashion. But, enough was enough, so I took the big step. No more daily LAT. Yes, I would continue to look at the web site, but would focus on finding most of my local news coverage elsewhere. While also continuing to hope for a turnaround that would be of benefit to all parties: the public, the reporters, the owners.

At that point, I thought things had gone downhill so much that the situation could only improve, not worsen. Clearly, I was wrong. What is happening now is the ultimate insult. It is an insult to the hard-working reporters at the paper and an insult to the public that a paper of this size and (former?) prestige is supposed to serve. Less news, with fewer experienced reporters; more focus on "get it done quickly" and "get it done cheaply" than on any kind of substance; more focus on Hollywood and so-called "celebrity journalism"... And this is how they propose to help turn things around: a newspaper that provides less news? And that this will somehow bring in more readers and more advertisers and thus make more money? Huh!? Duh???

How very sad. How very disappointing.

Emma Schafer
Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum

Thursday, July 3 2008 • Link • Email this post • Submit an email
More email about the Times

Jesus. I live in this town. I write about this town. I need the LA Times. But the minute those malicious ignorant idiots redesign it into a big ransom note, as they did in Florida, I will cancel. I already take the NY Times. I'll have to live without local news.

John Shannon

Regarding the possible sale of the Los Angeles Times building:

I hope Zell is selling naming rights. I'm looking forward to the new Sit-N-Sleep Times Building.

You're killing me, Sammy!

Mark L. Hammond

Thursday, July 3 2008 • Link • Email this post • Submit an email
Where are the kosher Dodger Dogs?


Interesting story about the matzo shortage. It confirms the anecdotal evidence many of us have experienced this year...

Another odd story about kosher food in LA is the persistent inability, year after year, of the Dodgers to offer kosher hot dogs at the Stadium. Offering kosher hot dogs at baseball games seems to be relatively easy at ballparks across America-- from major stadiums to minor league ballparks. In L.A., however, with the nation's second largest Jewish community, the issue is a nonstarter. It is my understanding that the Dodgers have traditionally offered two explanations. First, they have a longstanding contractual commitment with Farmer John. I obviously don't know the details of that contract, but I do know that it did not prevent Jody Maroni's from opening its sausage stand a couple years ago (they may also sell dogs at the Gordon Biersch stand-- I can't recall). Second, they claim that it is simply too difficult and expensive to reconfigure the kitchens and storage space sufficient to build a proper kosher kitchen. That may or may not be true, but it does not explain why the Dodgers don't simply offer a kosher alternative (Hebrew National, Aaron's, Jeff's Gourmet Sausage) at their regular stands. That compromise would nor satisfy the most Orthodox, but it would satisfy thousands of less strictly observant, but still kosher, Jews.

Below is a link to a recent story on the issue in the Jewish Journal. It would be interesting to hear why this seemingly simple task seems to be so difficult for the Dodgers to accomplish. [Here's the link.]

Stuart Tochner

Thursday, April 24 2008 • Link • Email this post • Submit an email
Torturous day on the blogs

Not your problem, you're quoting from the Huffington Post, but everybody should look up the word "tortuous." I've seen it misused three times on blogs today. It means winding — not painful and "torturous."

John Shannon

Wednesday, April 23 2008 • Link • Email this post • Submit an email
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