Jim O’Shea: The LAT To Become More Transparent

23127382.jpgLAT editor Jim O’Shea announces some changes at the paper that include keeping Janet Clayton on as a “consultant,” entrusting the ever-rising Russ Stanton with improving the paper’s Monday circulation and putting Marc Duvoisin in charge of all projects.

The changes are the result of the paper’s internal, Queer-Eye-sounding Reinvent committee, which came up with 48 recommendations for improving the paper — two-thirds of which, O’Shea said, he plans to implement.

To the staff:

In July, the Reinvent committee, a group of Times employees representing a cross-section of the newspaper, issued its report on ways to improve the Los Angeles Times. The report gave 48 specific recommendations ranging from improving local coverage to closer collaboration with the online news site. I’ve decided to more forward on about two thirds of the committee’s recommendations, some of which are already under way and some of which will require further study. The committee’s recommendations will be dealt with in three phases.

Phase One: The Public’s Right to Know.

Traditionally journalists have interpreted the public’s right to know as a key element of the newspaper’s mission to shine a light on the operations of government and society. In recent years, an impressive body of evidence is building that it’s in our interest to let the public know more about us, how we operate, how our decisions are made and by whom. I strongly believe that the perceptions of media bias and arrogance are directly tied to our insular culture. So we are starting to implement several of the recommendations to help us become more open and communicate better with our readers. We will soon launch a Reader’s Representative page on latimes.com that will feature information useful to our readers. It will include a blog moderated by Jamie Gold and Kent Zelas that will answer reader questions and engage reporters and editors in dealing with their queries and observations. We will also update the staff lists online to include everyone’s email address, office phone number and, ultimately, biographical information. We will improve the online navigation to help readers pass along news tips. Janet Clayton has agreed to stay on in a consulting role to help me develop better outreach to the community.

I’ve also decided to move ahead to improve beat coverage and work better with the online staff. Soon we will place all auto coverage under one department, Business. Highway 1, which is now in Features, will move to Business. The idea is to consolidate coverage that is highly relevant to California readers under one editor and develop an integrated print-web model that can be applied to other subjects and beats. We are working on a proposal for a new auto section and site that will improve our coverage and give the ad department a platform to reverse the decline in automobile advertising revenue.

Phase Two: Readership Issues.

The debate over long versus short stories has been around as long as I’ve been a journalist. So I will settle the debate once and for all: Short is better. That doesn’t mean we won’t run long stories. <strongTom Curwen's piece on the man who was mauled by a grizzly was long and excellent. As a reader, I couldn’t put it down. But in too many other stories, we are not as disciplined as we should be. If we focus on becoming better writers and editors, our stories will be better, shorter and more inviting to readers. Hence Phase 2 of the report’s recommendations — the ones designed to make our stories more readable and accessible — will be a phase that never ends. We’ve already started on the series of Newsroom U classes on graphics for print and online. These sessions are designed to improve our storytelling and provide readers with points of action. Other sessions will deal with updated and detailed profiles of our print and online readers and photography for both mediums and video. You will be hearing more about these staff development opportunities in October and November. The classes have one thing in common: They are designed to help us help readers navigate the paper and select and prioritize what they want to read from all of our great content.

Phase Three: The Big Ones.

A couple of the recommendations involve significant change that we will make or study over the coming months. A major change that I’ve already made is the consolidation of all projects under one editor, Marc Duvoisin. From now on, any story that requires a full page jump is a project. We also will be more disciplined about the projects we undertake. Project reporting is vital to the future of the paper. The consolidation of this kind of work under Marc will put the full force and resources of the Los Angeles Times behind our signature stories. In return, reporters and editors will be challenged to earn that signature.

The Reinvent report also recommended revitalizing local coverage. We will do that starting immediately with our new metro editor David Lauter. John Arthur will take the lead in working with David to restructure our coverage of Southern California. The report recommended changes in the pacing and content of the A-section, too. We will examine this issue in the coming weeks with input from all interested parties.

I am also appointing Russ Stanton to head a group to look at the Monday paper, our weakest circulation day. The Monday problem is chronic and we simply must fix it. It will require creativity, patience and teamwork. You can expect to hear progress on this and our local initiatives later this year and early in 2008.

Finally, I’ve asked Sean Reily to explore numerous initiatives to raise the newsroom’s profile on local radio and television and to come up with newsroom ideas to appropriately generate revenue. He has had meetings with radio and television representatives to gauge their interest and see if there are mutually beneficial steps toward Times-branded programming. We will keep you posted on those efforts.

As we move into these three phases of improving the newspaper, I will amend the evaluation process to reflect the need for everyone to become more engaged in contributing to latimes.com. I will share details of these plans once they have been finalized.

Within a few weeks, I will have been editor of the Times for one year. This has been a challenging year but also an extremely rewarding one. My one regret is I haven’t become better acquainted with all of you, a deficit that I intend to remedy. I also intend to become more involved in our news coverage and projects. I am looking forward to that.

The next year will be a challenging one with a change of ownership. I know it is tempting to sit back and wait to see how this all plays out. That would be a mistake. I intend to move forward now and accelerate some of the changes that our Spring Street and Reinvent reports recommended. The staff members who created these reports did great work. These are steps that you — the staff — recommended. And now we are going to embark on the course you set. The challenges outlined in these reports will create a new future, one that will be better than the troubled years we’ve all experienced. I remain determined to create growth. I refuse to accept the conventional wisdom that newspapers and the Los Angeles Times in particular are doomed. We have more talent, creativity and potential energy in this building and in our bureaus around the nation and world than any other media organization. Everyday we produce something vital to our city, region, state, nation and world — excellent news coverage, the key to our future.

Thanks so much,