"As a news organization, we are not Web-savvy. If anything, we are Web-stupid." – excerpt from L.A. Times internal committee report.
DRIVING IN LOS ANGELES is as much an exercise in patience as it is a windshield-eye view on a Third World. Every turn brings a dichotomy of culture, every street a display of economic stratification, and every stoplight a glimmer of hope for a way forward, or a way out.
Yet within the diversity – amidst the multi-everything and everywhere and everyone – there is order. There is purpose. There are people with more in common than they realize. And it is this sameness that makes L.A. hum, that allows this Third World on the edge of the continent to survive.
So, why does this matter in the world of media? What makes Los Angeles special?
Simple: If a newspaper reflects the community it covers, then the Los Angeles Times is the ultimate mirror (no pun intended toward the Times’ former owner, the Times-Mirror Company.)
The Times is as fractious and fragile as L.A. itself, as diverse and as divided. Layoffs, careless leadership, and ignorance of new horizontal media structures left The Times in the journalism Dark Ages. While other papers braced for battle and embraced the future, The Times cowered in its Spring Street cave like an injured animal.
Nevertheless, year after year The Times managed to instill hope in the face of little else. And now, finally, this Rip Van Winkle of print journalism is waking up.
Times Editor James E. O’Shea announced that the paper will – like the New York Times and so many others – combine its print and online news operations. There will be one newspaper, with the online enterprise in the pole position.
Of course, by now, this is more “dog bites man” than newsworthy. The Times is late to the party, and who’s to say either continued financial pressure from Tribune ownership in Chicago or a new ownership group won’t force this intrepid journey into more troubled waters. The Times has tried rearranging its deck chairs before, only to sink further.
The difference now, however, is the coming tide of journalistic change is raising all boats. After all, this is not a course The Times decided to take, but rather a decision it had to make.
As part of the move to web-centric journalism, O’Shea said all reporters would take an “Internet 101” course to teach them how to be “savvy multimedia journalists” and improve their response to breaking news. Business Editor Russ Stanton will be the paper’s first “innovation” editor, charged with molding the editorial staff into podcasters and videographers (disclaimer: I know Russ from my reporting days, and I have no doubt he will do a great job.)
WHETHER THIS SHIFT WILL give reporters more job security and help bring The Times into the 21st Century is a question we will see answered in public – or as the tired cliché goes, in “real time” (as opposed to what, fake time?) We will see the triumphs and the failures, the true innovations and, I hope, the leadership I expect from a newspaper that needs to convince itself there are more days ahead than behind.
Don’t forget, this is still Los Angeles – the place where dreams and determination dance on the boundary between myth and reality. In such a place, it’s easy for a newspaper to believe it can catch up and even lead.
To this I say good luck – and look out. In Los Angeles, the Third World is always just around the corner.