News War: The LA Times vs. Tribune and Readers Lose


KCET broadcast Frontline’s series News War last night, as counter programming for American Idol, never guessing that someone could actually want to watch both. This episode, What’s Happening to the News, which examimes the struggles of the LA Times, will repeat this Friday and the website has the whole series.

The producers interviewed all the right people for the series, and all but five of them are men.

In this episode, Amanda Congdon is presented twice–once in her Rocketboom days, and now as the fresh new face on She even gets an extended section on the website–the only woman with such a segment. (Maybe she’s supposed to help David Westin get a reasonable return.) Other than a woman in the LAT’s Baghdad bureau (in a burkha!) and Lauren Rich Fine from Merrill Lynch, women aren’t talking about the news business. And judging by the credits, women aren’t working in it either, at least not on this episode. (The first two episodes were written, produced, and directed by Raney Aronson-Rath.)

The hour is chiefly devoted to the tension between Tribune’s push for profits and John Carroll’s and Dean Baquet’s devotion to news, especially prize-winning news from far away places, but there is a glimpse of Rob Curley and his success in grabbing readers through a paper’s websites. He’s now at the Washington Post–the LAT had the chance, but missed it.

Bill Keller, of the NYT, loftily dismisses local coverage, and suggests that the LA Times shouldn’t bother with that sort of thing. But there’s no tabloid press here, so who is supposed to cover local issues?

The show is free of gotcha moments, except for David Hiller with Johnny “Mayor of Hollywood” Grant and some cheerleaders when the paper gets a star on Hollywood Blvd. If Hiller didn’t show up for this, who would? Maybe the Chandlers could handle all the ceremonial functions.

Dean Baquet gets a good amount of camera time, and he makes the most of it. Hiller felt the need to send out a staff memo about the show, noticing that Jim O’Shea didn’t make the final edit. But Baquet’s points are all good ones, and the Tribune Co. might want to buy the DVD.

News War is good journalism and good television of the slightly ponderous sort, and the producers dutifully hit all the notes, except one. The readers. Journalists talking about journalism and business types talking about business and no one is listening those of us who read the paper.