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.