Read the memo

LA Times squeezed out of hosting its own awards shindig

latimes-sign-sideview.jpgLA Observed file photo.

This might be the weirdest thing yet since the Los Angeles Times lost control of its building at 1st and Spring streets to the real estate arm of the paper's former parent company, Tribune Media. For awhile now, the Times has had to pay rent on its own offices and pay a fee to reserve conference rooms and other facilities. There also are security doors on all the newsrooms now to keep out wandering tenants from other lessees. On Monday, the word went out of a new blow to LAT pride: the Times has to cancel this week's in-house awards gathering because the room either became unavailable or was never reserved. Ouch.

The editorial awards are typically the paper's biggest and most convivial party night of the year, when the staff gathers to fete the previous year's best or most boss-pleasing work and receive cash prizes. They tend to be especially festive in Pulitzer years, and last month the Times staff won the breaking news prize for swarm coverage of the San Bernardino shootings. The awards used to be gala banquets held in ballrooms at the Beverly Hills Hotel or the Beverly Wilshire, but that costly tradition had mostly ended before Tribune took over. In those days, the paper's editorial messenger staff also organized an after party at venues such as the Park Plaza to hand out alternative awards (such as to the most lecherous editor and hottest reporters on the staff) and dance to bands that included, at least one year, Maria McKee and Lone Justice. The latest cheaped-out iteration of the official awards party always left some veterans feeling a little blue and many would not attend, but at least the Times could get the room.

Anyway, here is Monday afternoon's memo, from the assistant to the editors, breaking the news that the awards set for Wednesday night would have to be postponed indefinitely.

From: Mata, Ana
Sent: Monday, May 16, 2016 12:36 PM

To: yyeditall; Manning, Hillary; Xanders, Julie; Malcolm, Greg; Jack, Suzy; Argentieri, Christopher H; Olszewski, Gary; Kechichian, Mike; Moran, Roaldo; Floyd, Miles; Robledo, Sylvia; Dominguez, Maria

Cc: McManus, Doyle; Hill, Libby; Marantos, Jeanette; Bryant, Rebecca; Ragland, Don; Devol, Steve; Rodman, Sarah; Thiry, Lindsey

Subject: Canceled: 54th Los Angeles Times Editorial Awards
When: Wednesday, May 18, 2016 5:30 PM-9:00 PM.
Where: TBD

Due to a scheduling conflict with the venue, it will be necessary to postpone/reschedule. A new meeting request will be sent at a later date with a new date/time.

Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Thank you.

Meanwhile, one member of the large contingent of Times editorial alumni still living in the LA area noticed that Monday's print paper totaled just 36 pages — that's all sections combined. "I think that's a record low," said the former editor, who tracks such things. Even with the smaller papers and shrinking news hole, Assistant Managing Editor Shelby Grad recently memoed his staff to plead for more copy for the California, or B, section. The section has been running less news and more canned stuff — that's typically a sign of scrambling to fill space at a newspaper. There are fewer staffers around than before last year's buyouts, but Grad spins it to say the remaining reporters are just busy on bigger projects. Which happens too. Filling the B section was a challenge even 20 years ago.

Like my dieting record, the weight of the Metro budget tends to fluctuate. And continuing this uncomfortable analogy, lately we’ve achieved my “dream weight,” and that’s not a good thing. Particularly, we are having trouble filling the B1 on weekends and sometimes even during the week. We are not looking for filler, but strong stories we can offer for B1 and A1. One reason for the drought is that many reporters are now digging into some great enterprise/investigative stories, and that remains our top priority. You are also providing a remarkable amount of copy for A1, which of course leaves less for B. But I suspect there is bandwidth on the staff to produce more meaty shorter-term stories off our beats. So please let your editors know what you have come. Thanks.

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