Monday, February 02, 2009

Hey, Russ Stanton! Edit, Don't Spin

Los Angeles Times Editor Wants to Smell Like A Rose While Standing Knee Deep In Crap

On the one hand, you can't fault newspaper editors for wanting to find the half-full glass lined with silver. Presiding over newsrooms where your budget is slashed to bits and all those empty desks feel like they have eyes fixed on you can get can justify hitting the snooze button three or four times.
But can we stop already with the spin? Among the bromides we've had to suffer from editors goes something like "Despite the recent reductions, we still have the largest, most robust news organization in the state."
Yeah, but that doesn't mean the cuts you make won't be any less apparent. Such is the plight facing the beleaguered Los Angeles Times, which last week announced it would cut 300 more positions, including 70 in the newsroom -- a reduction of 11 percent.
That means the Times is left with about half the number of journalists it had in 2000, before it was acquired by Tribune.
So, it's time for some candor from Times editor Russ Stanton, instead of dancing around the truth.
"We are all too familiar with this process, but over the past year in particular," he wrote in a memo to the staff. "We have come through each of these downsizings and continued to produce some of the highest-quality journalism in our industry."
If true -- and the last time I checked the Times is still an eminently decent if much-diminished newspaper -- then that speaks volumes of the desultory state of the media industry.
But it doesn't speak to what the Times was and will never be again, a media titan and cash cow like few other properties in this country. Nowadays, the emperor doesn't necessarily have no clothes, but the seams have started to fray in some embarrassing places.
Stanton should own up to this reality and tell everyone "Look, this is what we can't do anymore. Don't even expect us to try. But given what's left, here's what we're going to focus on and do better than anyone else."
Of course, that's a lot easier said than done when you have a publisher who's effectively knee-capping you. Eddy Hartenstein, not Stanton, was apparently the one who made the decision last week to kill the California section and fold it into the A section, even though as blogger Kevin Roderick points out, a better candidate would have been the desiccated business section.
A safer guess is that Stanton is not saying what he should because he likes having a job. Too bad 300 more Times employees won't be able to say that soon.

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