Finke/LA Weekly: Dean of Sycophants (And The Paper Drops A Bomb)

My latest lalogo.gif column Dean Of Sycophants, written and posted early this week, dealt with how much news the Los Angeles Times is not giving its already ill-served readers about its current battle with Tribune Co., its firing and hiring of publishers, and all the other things distracting the paper from its central job of reporting. Here’s how it begins:

“I’m not very popular on Spring Street nowadays. (Then again, I wasn’t much liked when I worked there either.) An editor at the Los Angeles Times just accused me of “wanting the death” of the paper. That’s because in recent days, I’ve called on Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet to resign. I’ve called out the new publisher as a Tribune Toady and exposed him as a right-wing Reaganite who once advocated illegal-alien “concentration camps”.And now I can even justify those parent company–ordered staff cuts deemed so damn draconian. All this is my way of counterbalancing the increasing sanctimoniousness that has infected the paper’s coverage of its current chaos and crisis. Those staff petitions, those photos of foreign correspondents wearing T-shirts featuring Baquet in a defiant pose, and all sorts of other slavish nonsense usually associated with cults. Any day now, I imagine a team of carpenters erecting a pulpit for media critic Tim Rutten, whose columns have become insufferably evangelical, and then a crucifix for Baquet, who keeps playing the martyr.”

So now there’s yet another distraction. Seems a couple of those Baquet cultists went to him with an idea to find ways that the paper could reengage readers. Suddenly, the paper drops a bomb: there’s a new emergency “Manhattan Project” overseen by some handpicked internal committee of reporters and editors. Sheesh, you couldn’t make up stuff this hilarious. The very idea of the lunatics taking over the asylum, down to the ridiculous name that demonstrates yet again that the men who run the LA Times are forever NY-centric in their thinking, sadly. Do these people even know we’re in one of the busiest news periods of the entire year? So while the Washington Post and The New York Times are scooping the LA Times on the biggest stories of the day, Spring Street will be wasting its diminishing resources senselessly contemplating its navel. The brass at Tribune Co. must be laughing their asses off: after all, the more time that the LAT worker bees busy themselves with this project, the less time they have to battle the Chicago bosses. The readership problem and its solution don’t require rocket scientists, much less a trio of investigative journalists. As I say in my column:

“If I were steering this sinking ship, I’d scale back foreign and national (knowing that, eventually, the parent company will consolidate coverage of that, like McClatchy and Gannett, because of the enormous cost savings) and beef up local news. I don’t know anyone who thinks the Times is doing even a decent job of covering Los Angeles and its environs, unless editors think the story will win a Pulitzer. Not since the suburban sections became history. Not since Baquet himself ordered the Metro section mutated into a California section (as if Angelenos give a rat’s ass about what happens in San Francisco or San Diego). The truth, of course, is that even if the Times were given a Joan Kroc–sized infusion of cash (such as she bestowed on NPR) tomorrow, barely a penny would be spent on giving Angelenos what they want and need: news about their hometown. The Times own motto says it strives to be “the voice of Los Angeles around the world.” Isn’t that ass backwards?”

Or maybe the real question is: Doesn’t anyone on Spring Street have their heads screwed on straight?

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