Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I Like Newspapers But They No Longer Like Me

Los Angeles has always been more than just a city. It totally dominates the life of all the people that dwell in the basin that is formed by the Southern rift of the Tehachipis and Western slope of the San Gabriel Mountains to the Sea and South to San Diego County. It anchors the first and still the largest suburban megapolis.

For a century the city had a newspaper that matched it and documented its life, day by day, The Los Angeles Times. The Times may not ever have been renowned as one of the World's great newspapers but if you lived here in the great basin, it was almost indispensable.

It was famous for its girth, a bloated daily missive, with several sections, even on Saturday and home delivery was relegated to immigrant men in old pickup trucks or sedans with the backseats removed, frames sagging under the weight of the load, rather than earnest young paperboys with bags on bikes. The advertising supplements alone would have been too much for boys on bikes. The Times had sports, business, the movie industry, city hall and local society covered. They had bureaus in major cities around the World, correspondents that went to the hot spots, as well as writers covering the action in Sacramento, Washington, New York and other American regional centers. Over the years editorial policy shifted right, left and center but the opinions delivered were always diverse and thought provoking.

At my house, growing up, we always got the LA Times as well as the local daily. As an adult I continued the practice. Even though it is easier, more effective and efficient to get the news online, there is something about sitting down with the newspaper in the morning that is satisfying, even if it is only satisfying a habit.

Over the years, newspapers have been losing circulation and with circulation, advertising. Profits thinned out. Even well established, capitalized and mature monoliths like the LA Times began to suffer. Budgets were cut. News bureaus were shrunk, departments merged and deleted. The paper got smaller, even as subscription and news stand prices increased. The last member of the Chandler family, that had owned the paper for generations, who had taken an active interest in the management of the organization, became infirm, retired and died.

A few years ago, the remaining family members sold the paper to the Chicago Tribune. Soon after that, the Tribune merged with another newspaper publisher and all the time, circulation and advertising continued to decline. I continued to subscribe, partly out of loyalty and partly because I believed that without newspapers to post the news online, the quality of information available would degrade.

This week the Times announced further cuts in editorial staff and mergers in departments. I think I'm through. It isn't so much the decrease in size that I mind so much but somewhere along the way the paper has lost the literary flavor that made it an LAlien institution. I will soon cancel my subscription. I may take the Orange County Register. It was founded by R.C. Hoiles, a famous Right Wing nut and progenitor of the John Birch Society but has moderated in the decades since his demise and the truth be told, it has always offered better local Orange County news, sports and entertainment coverage. I may just pick up the OC Weekly, an alternative news throw away with surprisingly good local content. Eventually, news is going to have to be generated by some entity besides newspapers. I think they may be a lost cause.

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