The continuing departure of L.A. Times staff, thanks to the downsizing agenda of its new owner Sam Zell, has sunk the paper to an incredible low point. Some of the finest journalists have now departed the paper: staffers like Henry Weinstein (who long represented the conscience of the paper and whose coverage of legal affairs and labor was insightful and invaluable); Marla Cone (among the best environmental reporters in the country); and Bob Sipchen (who sought to make the opinion pages both more lively and innovative). The L.A. Times has gone through upheavals before, to be sure.
The Chandler family long used the paper as its tool for a virulent reactionary politics and an effective economic instrument for its own purposes. Even when the paper changed in the 1960s and 1970s, those changes happened, at times, despite rather than due to a progressive vision of the publisher. The more noteworthy of paper’s heroes during the past four decades had been a handful of its editors (Frank McCulloch during the early 1960s comes to mind) as well as those reporters who stretched boundaries, shifted the paper away from its past reputations, and made more visible the issues, communities, and ideas that had been previously at the margins of the paper’s coverage. When the Tribune Company bought the paper in 2000, the Times had already suffered some embarrassments, such as the paper for sale scandal around the Staples supplement. Tribune made matters worse, highlighting downsizing as its own version of how to undermine a paper’s reputation.
Now comes Sam Zell who clearly has no shame in gutting the paper.
I’ve thought about the shrinking news hole as I’ve followed the fascinating and not reported story through emails and blogs of the battles now taking place regarding the proposed warehouse development on the site of the bulldozed South Central farm. It’s a great newspaper story – political intrigue, battling agencies (South Coast AQMD vs. L.A. City Planning Department), the return of the immigrant farmers, huge numbers of truck trips increasing the particulate matter in the area and the region; enviros battling it out with a well connected developer. But you can’t find it in the L.A. Times, nor, one presumes, would Sam Zell care.