I read a story in the New York Times
that made me sad
The Los Angeles Times has made plans to transfer control of its monthly magazine from its newsroom to its business operations and to replace the magazine’s entire editorial staff, according to two executives at the newspaper.
I've never written for the LA Times at all, let alone the magazine, but I do remember a conversation with a past editor, Martin Smith - a real gentleman who was praised by every writer I knew who worked for him and who, it was clear, had an understanding of how to focus articles for his audience.
But the LA Times has been a mess for a while, from what I've heard - and from what has appeared in the news. I'm sure this is all part of the roiling at the Tribune organization, which owns the paper. Sam Zell bought the company and is certain, I'm sure, that he knows what is best for the company. Unfortunately, many people who are primarily investors think they know how to make companies run well, and they often don't, particuarly when it comes to publishing. Some time back, I had a conversation with an editor I knew and wrote for. We were discussing the business magazine market and how badly so mny titles seemed to be doing. This highly experienced man was then editor in chief for a business magazine which had been started by someone with more money than sense, because Mr. Pockets kept second-guessing everything that the experienced editors were doing. The result was complete and total disaster.
A magazine or newspaper is an odd tye of business, because there are three communities to which it is responsible. One, absolutely, is the set of advertisers. They need to know that their financial support will translate into a return on their investment.
But that doesn't happen in a vacuum. To be useful, the publication needs a reading public. The money comes as a consequence of being well-read and well-regarded, and if owners keep under-cutting the editorial mission, they eliminate the ability to satisfy the public, and so the ability to attract advertisers.
A publication also has a responsibility to the community and to public discourse. It is by far the most hazy to accountants, but it is why many people care about a publication and why they are willing to buy it. Ignore the mission, and you might as well close shop and start the fire sale tomorrow.
The plan for the magazine was set in motion months ago. A new editor and others were hired, future issues were planned, and mock-up covers were made — all without the knowledge of anyone in the newsroom, including the top editor, Russ Stanton, the executives said. Mr. Stanton and other high-ranking editors learned of the plan last week, they said.
But the executives who described the plan cautioned that it might have changed since last week, after editors raised objections.
They said that Mr. Stanton, after hearing about the move, asked the publisher of The Times, David D. Hiller, and the president of the newspaper, Jack D. Klunder, to change the name of the publication, which is now called Los Angeles Times Magazine. He argued that to keep the name would lend the newsroom’s credibility to a product it did not control.
Can you imagine taking over a manufacturer and telling the factory workers and management that the marketing department would now run things? Just because someone can make money in real estate doesn't mean that he can necessarily do anything else. It's just that he has enough money to prove by example how bad his decisions can be. Then comes all the money trying to prove that it was the fault of everyone else. But when you're the CEO, you are responsbile. You cannot take the praise if you aren't willing to accept the blame.
Labels: Los Angeles Times, magazine, newspapers