View from inside LATimes.com
After Glenda McCarthy's email about LATimes.com ran (see below), the site's VP/General Manager, Rob Barrett, felt moved to reply that her view is dated at best:
Kevin: I have been here since early '05 and never even heard of this grumpy woman. It's so way off from my universe I don't know where to begin. We've just hired the former executive editor of EW to run a totally rebuilt CalendarLive site, and the project is being led by the project lead who built entertainment for nytimes.com. We have Meredith Artley joining. I just made very talented FL listings staff full-time and hired more. They write for print as well.
Our latimes.com editor is Richard Rushfield, formerly of Variety and VF and an acquaintance of yours. We have unprecedented cooperation with features chief John Montorio and Lennie LaGuire, the editor of Calendar overall, and we are launching the first-in-nation fully integrated print-online local guide with the CL revamp.
I appreciate your coverage of the Los Angeles Times and its attempt to improve its Web site.
I'm a former editor at the Times, most recent gig being Listings Editor -- the last one to work directly for the Times itself rather than Tribune Media, controller of the Web site, and I have to finally comment on some of the happenings.
I've been amused and not incredibly surprised that the 'Spring Street Committee's conclusions about the web operations and new web
chief's directive, because in a crucial way it's backwards:
The committee report commented that the Web site has a fine editorial staff and that the Times' newsroom editorial staff needs to learn
about the site. Granted, the newsroom staff has kept a distance from the site, mainly because it's so awful.
However, what is not mentioned is that the Web site staff are primarily temporary, low-paid employees who have no background in journalism. And many of them have shown disinterest or outright contempt for the journalists of the Times because of their focus on accuracy, ethics and style. I do know one great editor on the site, Dan Gaines, who had worked in the newsroom previously. But most
others at the Web had little or no respect for those in the newsroom (some of their attitudes seemed to reflect jealousy actually.)
Many of the web staffers who worked on listings were enthusiastic and hard-working, and young, and enticed with the possibility of getting
their names published in the Times, to make up for their low pay and temporary status that of course gave no benefits. Some had hopes of joining the Times, but the likelihood of that was practically nil because they were already working indirectly for it for so little pay. Last year, the site added about a dozen or so people, but all temps (while the Times laid off in other departments.)
I worked directly with the site's entertainment editor, (whose short previous experience was in PR), who stated a clear preference for publishing listings for venues that would likely advertise, rather than choosing based on the opinions of Times critics or reporters. He
considered the Times' editors and critics elitists. I also hit a brick wall with him when I emphasized that listings staffers needed
to check on the accuracy of listings that had been put into the database weeks earlier before being published. This was a particular
problem with pop and night club listings (the night club and restaurant listings had been put into the system a couple of years
earlier with an army of temps working for a few weeks.)
(In full disclosure, the web's entertainment editor took on my previous responsibilities after I took the buyout in 2004. A main reason that I took the buyout was because I had a shrinking staff to work listings and the few listings staffers on the web site, for whom I had no direct control but was dependent upon them for listings, were pushed toward heavy quantity over quality or even accuracy. Calendar reporters and critics were often receiving angry calls from performers and readers about faulty listings that they had no control over -- another big reason that they weren't too happy with the web site -- and my tiny staff and I did not have the time to verify everything the web staffers had done.)
I would love to see this great city have a great newspaper again, one with a great web site. And if the current leaders can do that, great.
I just think that with their attitude, ignoring the lack of journalistic skills and ethics on the web site (I suppose for the kudos that come with keeping budgets tight), it's not going to happen. How does a newspaper have a great Web site that people flock to? By
having credibility. That's why I read the NYTimes site and avoid the LATimes.
Thanks for listening.