Tuesday, February 17, 2009

American Newspapers and the Los Angeles Times

OVER the last few months, the only thing i've heard more than Thomas Jefferson's line -- that he would rather have newspapers without a government than a government without newspapers -- is people telling me they plan to cancel their LA Times subscription.

i can't say i'm surprised by this -- the paper has become a poster child of bad ownership recently, and it's lost so many talented staffers, in some cases in a heartless manner, i wont even get started.

but it always saddens me when people do that -- not only because it hurts the whole culture when people do that, but because this (falling subscription rates) is what got us into this mess in the first place, and will get us deeper if people keep doing it.

these issues and more are dealt with very incisively in this New Republic story by my former colleagues Joe Mathews, who like me comes from a journalism family. 

Joe begins the story wondering, Should i cancel my LAT subscription? he asks, and then: what is lost when a paper and its news gathering operation fades away? 

Photo credit: Superstock


rich said...

The past few editions of the Times brought me two articles I enjoyed immensely. Reading them carried me back to the days when that paper had writers. In the middle of the Yiyun and Updike pieces when I began to suspect that they were from outside the current LAT team... then I began to sense they might be your handiwork. (I hadn't initially noticed the by-line, just the topic.)

Richard Kahlenberg

Scott Timberg said...

ha -- well thanks!!

let's get a debate going -- anybody out there hate the stuff i wrote?

Milton said...

As Yogi once said: "If people don't want to go to the ballpark, you can't stop them."

The cork is out of the bottle on this latest edition of daily newspapers. Like almost everything else it has controlled, unregulated capitalism has sucked the life out of journalism by turning it into an "industry."

I don't know what's next as an economic model. As Marx predicted, capitalism has imploded like a black hole ... the pyramid collapsed. Perhaps we will return to the voice in the wilderness iconoclast of Franklin's day or to the little family-owned paper.

So many fine papers have been gutted; LAT is just one in a long sad litany.

I fear the disaster hasn't happened yet. First there were several years of perestroika, then the Soviet Union disappeared in three weeks. Things fall apart fast.

The average American is amazingly uninformed, so the press has pretty much failed in its mission already. Who knows what comes next without viable papers.

(Maybe I should wake upo before I try to type, let along think ...)

Scott Timberg said...

well, some interesting thoughts there but i dont think a) capitalism is finished - tho the ayn-randian get-out-of-the-way-of-the-market idea that's been in fashion since about 1980 has clearly developed some problems, and
b) cant agree that the LAT is typical of american newspapers, tho things are certainly tough all over. LAT went from winning double digit pulitzers a few years back to losing nearly 40 % of its newsroom staff in 2008 alone.
declining paid readership and loss of business to the web are, these days, typical; tribune's ownership troubles are not.

Pradeep said...

Not sure if you are the same Scott Timberg from Wesleyan. But if so, hello, this is Hap. Jim Miller's friend. Not sure if you remember me. Funny. I heard a song on the Radio today I liked, googled the Band (the airborne toxic event), and your name came up in a music review. If this is you, it was a well written review. Hope you are well.

Scott Timberg said...

hey hap good to hear from you -- yes mercifully there is only one scott timberg...

David Garrett said...

The real problem--one I've blogged about (albeit indirectly)--is that we're no longer a nation of readers.

My wife and I subscribe to the NY Times, WX Post, and WSJ, as well as a magazine or two. In a month or two, if only as a quixotic gesture of support, we'll probably add the New Yorker, the NY Review of Books, and at least one other publication I think we should support.

I suspect, though, we're unique among our friends and neighbors, more than a few of whom have told me they no longer subscribe to The WX Post (WX is Associated Press-speak for Washington; I'm an old AP guy)because they read what they want to on-line.

Problem with that, as others have noted, is that you tend to read about what you're already interested in. With an analog newspaper in hand, you tend to make serendipitous discoveries.

Then, too, reading several newspapers provides information you wouldn't necessarily get reading just one. Case in point, the WX Post obituary of jazz drummer Louis Bellson, which noted his marriage to Pearl Bailey.

The NY Times, OTOH, reminded us that theirs was an interracial marriage at a time when such were illegal in about 17 states.

Waiting with my son in a doctor's office the other day, I listened to several mothers tell me how cool it was that my son loves to read. I thought about telling them, but didn't, that we've read to him from the start (in utero!), provided plenty of books ($6,000 and counting) and--most important--limited his TV and computer time, as well as his movie and DVD viewing.

(I just figured out that my kid's 8, and we've probably spent more on books for him each year than clothes.)

And, of course, I didn't point out that one had just complained she'd been reading the book she was holding for several weeks and found it hard to find time to read more than a few pages.

Anyway, enough of this rant.

To paraphrase Norma Desmond, newspapers are still big; it's the people that have gotten smaller.

Scott Timberg said...

well said -- it's the pleasure of serendipity and those accidental discoveries that disappear when the actual physical paper is gone.