Los Angeles Magazine speaks to five former editors of the LAT about what the paper was like then – and where it’s going today. The overall picture is as grim as you’d expect: The good old days are good and dead and the industry is headed to hell in a handbasket. All that. Funny thing is, we remember some of these guys, and there were as many gripes during their tenures as now.
Shelby Coffey III for instance can wax poetic all day about the “tremendously stimulating time” he had as editor-in-chief from ’89-’97 and all the bureaus and new editions that were added under his watch. But let’s not forget that many of those bureaus were ghosts towns by ’95 populated by quasi-legally employed “stringers.”
Michael Parks seems to benefit the most from 20/20 hindsight, even offering his perspective of how he’d run the paper in today’s climate: “You have to get more imaginative in your coverage choices. The Los Angeles Times should not run and hunt with The New York Times and The Washington Post. It’s sui generis. It needs to be reported, written, and edited for the people of Southern California.” He doesn’t mention any other innovative ways to increase the paper’s funding. We’re guessing that’s a sore subject.
Our favorite part of the piece is how Dean Baquet doesn’t mince words: “The 20 percent of my time that I spent dealing with a bad publisher — and I mean David Hiller, not Jeffrey Johnson — was not the dominant part of my day. I spent most of my time with a newsroom that really wanted to change and do great stuff . I brainstormed ideas with a staff that wanted leadership, and for a brief moment it seemed as if we could be the best paper in the country.”
John Carroll finds some nice words about Zell: “Zell? He has taken on a big one. He probably didn’t fully realize how devastating the loss of the business model is — and will be. But I would say, from reading about him and reading his memos, that he’s clearly intellectually more acute than the people here placed. Maybe he’ll figure out how to preserve journalism as well as his capital.”
Then he adds: “I wouldn’t bet on it, though.”