What would you do with… the LA Times?

A favorite parlor game among fellow media blatherers these days is, “What would you do with _______?” Fill in that blank with the LA Times, any old newspaper, a TV station, a TV network, a cable network, a radio station, a cable company, a book publisher or any media company. The rules of the game are simple: When asked, sigh, shake your head, say you’re just not sure, and then come out with your personal prescription for the shrinking enterprise. The current round of the game is about the beleaguered, bedraggled LA Times.

Kit Seelye reports today that the LA Times just assigned a task force of reporters to a Manhattan Project to figure out their future. I wish them luck, but I fear they are off on the wrong if predictable foot: namely, preserving print and the past.

“We want to collect the best thinking on how to sustain the vitality and profitability of the print franchise,” Mr. Duvoisin said. “And we want to find the best thinking on how to transfer our journalism to the Web in the way most likely to grow audience and revenue.” But Mr. Loeb described the changes to come from the investigative project as a “reimagining” of the print paper in conjunction with the Web site.

I’d say it has nothing to do with the medium you’re in and everything to do with your essential value. And I find it surprising that I find nothing under “Manhattan Project” or its boss’ name at the LA Times. I’d think the first, best thing to do is to get the ideas from your public.

Meanwhile, ex LATimesman Michael Kinsley writes a column in the paper arguing that it should become part of parent Tribune Company’s national newspaper, creating a national brand with national content wrapping around local content in company’s juicy markets — Chicago, LA, Long Island, Baltimore, Hartford, Orlando. It’s a neat idea. I like everything about it but the paper part. I have long believed that there is an opportunity to start a new national newspaper — online. But I agree that sharing the national (read: commodity) content makes a lot of sense. This also focuses the paper on what it should do — local. I also applaud Kinsley for saying this:

L.A. Times journalists are not entirely blameless for the chaos and carnage. Journalists know how to stage a great hissy fit. And I’m not sure a fit was really called for in the initial staff reductions. On the editorial page (I can reveal, from the safety of hindsight) we initially had 15 people producing 21 editorials a week! So now cries that Tribune Co. has moved from cutting fat to cutting bone ring a bit hollow.

See also Doc Searls’ 10-pill prescription (and Doc is also trying to figure out what to do with the local paper near him: the Santa Barbara mess). And see smart newspaper consultant Juan Antonio Giner’s list accompanied by Juan Luis Cebrian’s. (See, I told you it was the hot game.)

I was going to take a turn at the buzzer with my to-do list but, frankly, I found myself going over the same territory I’ve paved here before — in these posts, for example, so I’ll hold that for another day. What would you do with the LA Times?

: See also a vision of the future from Shane Richmond of the Telegraph here and here.

: Matt Welch opens a blog discussion about the Manhattan Project on a Times blog.

: LATER: See Jon Fine pondering the future of the LA Times.

  • I have nothing to do whatsoever with the Manhattan Project, having first learned about it this morning, but I do work at the L.A. Times, and have access to its blog innards, so I’ve created a blog post with links and an opportunity to leave comments (though they have to be approved, and I might be asleep when the things come in, etc.).

  • While it’s true that nobody throws a hissy fit like a journalist – because, after all, what else are we for? – lost in all this snootier-than-thou New Media condescension is some (or in fact any) acknowledgement of the fact that without the much-derided MSM to give all the blogosphere their story leads & material, we’ll all be quickly back to blogging about how cute it is when Cuddles the Kitty chews on our little pink sock.

    The revolution ain’t here yet, kids.

    When our media doesn’t do its job, we as a country wind up acting on bad information. Such as the belief that there are actually WMDs in Iraq.

    Wonder what bad decisions we’re making on a daily basis because the information we’re using to make the value judgments is incomplete, skewed or flat-out missing…?

  • The Manhatten project for print is to figure out how to build electric paper.

    There have been discussions of moving to a user owned bit of electric paper which was, to a degree foldable, for years. Sony, if I recall, has a somewhat elegant solution in black and white with the crispness of a decent printing job on better than average quality newsprint.

    As you have pointed out often Jeff, the value is in the people having the hissy fits not the dead trees and ink by the gallon. Now, were the LA Times, NTY and WaPo to get together and fund the research needed to produce a real electric paper product they would be able to leverage the value their people bring to the dead trees.

    I suspect the biggest problem about a wifi enabled reader is not technological; rather it is the fact that it would let people stray off to fact check idiocies like the most recent Lancet piece. Having the net window open as you read your morning paper would make for rather more critical readers.

    At the same time, reading about the tying run in the bottom of the ninth and then clicking for video of the three bagger would make reading the paper fun again.

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  • Old Grouch

    “lost in all this snootier-than-thou New Media condescension is some (or in fact any) acknowledgement of the fact that without the much-derided MSM to give all the blogosphere their story leads & material, we’ll all be quickly back to blogging about how cute it is when Cuddles the Kitty chews on our little pink sock.”

    Much of the blogospheric fulmination I’ve encountered seems to be provoked by the MSM’s penchant for delivering superficial spin and snark in lieu of accurate, detailed, and insightful reporting (ironic because spin and snark are abundant on the web, while reporting is rare). Opinion is easy, reporting is hard, but bloggers bloviate for free while reporters get paid. Perhaps if the MSM gets back to its job there might be more readers?

  • Patricia

    Our local came out with a wrongheaded mini-edition of wire reports etc., which predictably failed. The Register is now in full LAT-ish begging-for- subscription mode, is bleeding ad revenue and laying off staffers.


    Most people who have canceled their papers do so because they’re sick of the bias they read on the hard news page. Publish a mini-edition with short articles from the wire (and LINKS to related pro and con on blogs), leave the features/entertainment/ads intact, and duplicate that setup on the website. Open up comments on the website. IOW get out of the zealotry biz. It would be hot.

  • Hire at least one explicitly pro-Bush registered Republican as an editor, one who:
    a) supports the Iraq war (with criticisms) and
    b) supports the tax cuts (Dow record high! among best growth in G-8)
    c) is pro-life.

    Such a person should have the power to ask for substantiation of reporter’s reports, i.e. facts. And point out the anti-Bush bias/ spin on every front page article.
    That would be his job.

    Printing the Lancet study AND some criticisms of it, like the mismatch with death certificates.

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