A bunch of current and former reporters at the LA Times are suing the new boss, Sam Zell, “accusing him of recklessness in the takeover and management of the newspaper’s parent, the Tribune Company,” says the NY Times.
Journalists are such a whiny bunch, always complaining, constantly blaming someone else for their problems. But friends, as the Rev. Wright would say, the chickens are coming home to roost.
Newspapers and newspaper companies are about to die. The last remaining puddles of auto, home, job, and retail advertising are about to be sucked down the drain thanks to the economic crisis and credit is about to be crunched into dust. So any newspaper or news company that has been teetering will fall. If Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and AIG can fall, so can a puny newspaper empire — and there’ll be no taxpayer bailout for them. When this happens, will it be Sam Zell’s fault? Hardly.
The Times veterans should not be suing Zell. They should be suing themselves. Oh, I, too, am angry at the state of newspapers in America but I’m angry at the right people. The LA Times’ problems — like those of other papers — were caused by by decades of egotistical and willfully ignorant neglect by the owners, managers — and staff — at the paper.
When more than one editorial regime had the hubris to think that they should turn the Times into a national – even international – paper, opening bureaus all over the globe and insisting on writing every commodity news stories under their own bylines while letting local coverage suffer, did you protest, litigators? No, those bylines and bureaus were yours.
When the paper was the most overwritten, under-edited consumer of wasted ink and paper in the United States of America, boring its audience with jump after jump of self-indulgent text and forcing readers to flee for TV, did you get out your pencils and start trimming and tightening? No.
When the paper failed even at covering its own hometown industry, did you jump in to fill the void? No.
When the internet came, did you all – every one of you as responsible, smart journalists, on your own – leap to get training in audio and video? Did you immediately hatch new ways to work collaboratively with the vast public of bloggers able and willing to join in local journalism? Not that I saw.
When the link economy emerged, enabling papers to find new efficiencies by saving resources long spent on commodity news so they could concentrate on their real mission — local — did you grab the opportunity by the horns and beg to cover the hell out of Encino? No.
When the Chandlers and the erstwhile Tribune management did not invest sufficiently in building new products online and driving audience, advertisers, and resources to it and to the future, did you protest? Did you sue? No.
You bear your share of responsibility for the paper’s past and thus its present. Whether Sam Zell is the guy to get the paper to the future, I have no idea. But I can look at your stewardship and see the results.
Want to see who’s to blame for the state of your paper? Get a mirror.