July 22, 2005

LA Times Shakeup Shows that The New York Times Is Not Alone in MSM Financial Suffering

The New York Times, whose professional and financial problems I blogged on earlier, is not the only Mainstream Media outlet suffering lost readership and the financial effects of being out of touch.

Editor and Publisher reports the “resignation” of John Carroll as Editor of the Los Angeles Times, and the breathtaking declines in circulation that have occurred at the paper during the past year:

But in recent years, the paper has taken a financial drubbing. Even when it won five Pulitzer Prizes in 2004, the second-most ever for a single paper in one year, the accolades were somewhat overshadowed. Two months after the Pulitzer sweep, Tribune Co. announced mandated layoffs of 200 employees, with the Times bearing the brunt. One hundred and sixty jobs were eliminated at the paper, including 60 editorial positions. Two-thirds of the departing journalists took voluntary buyouts.

In addition, two Times-owned newspapers in the nearby Inland Empire were shut down, while the Times national edition folded on Dec. 31, 2004.

The paper also took huge hits in circulation over the past two reporting periods. For the six months ending September 2004, daily circ slid 5.5% and Sunday dropped 6.3%. For the latest period, ending March 2005, daily copies decreased 6.4% and Sunday fell 7.9%. Total advertising revenue for the paper rose less than 1% in the second quarter of 2005.

Interesting phrasing. Why not simply say that “Daily circ slid 11.5% and Sunday circ fell 13.7% in the 12 months ended March 2005?” (the 12-month loss is less than the sum of the two 6-month losses because the second loss is calculated from a smaller base) I guess E&P doesn’t want to hurt the LAT’s feeling by printing double-digit numbers. Boo hoo.

Continuing:

Another hit came when General Motors announced in April that it was pulling advertising from the Times in response to a series of unfavorable articles, including one written by Pulitzer-prize winning car columnist Dan Neil on April 6. The paper would not disclose the amount of money lost, but some analysts estimated that GM, one of the paper’s largest advertisers, spent close to $20 million in 2004. As of early July, Tribune was still in negotiations with the automaker to return.

Still, Carroll has been seen as something of a savior for the editorial staff, which praised his hiring of several top editors, most notably Baquet, who left The New York Times for the West Coast job.

Last year, Carroll drew both criticism and praise when he allowed a series of scathing stories about California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to run just days before his victory in a gubernatorial recall election. The stories cited accusations by several unidentified women that Schwarzenegger had made unwelcome sexual advances.

What’s really delicious about this is that while they were devoting countless hours to the pre-election Arnold hit piece and alienating their readers with the transparent pre-election timing, these so-called professionals missed something that was dreadfully obvious, namely The Terminator’s fitness magazine relationships and the inherent conflict-of-interest problems involved, that could have done real damage. Because Schwarzenegger’s opposition was so weak, it probably wouldn’t have mattered in the final election result, but it’s amazing that no one thought to investigate this angle before the recall election.

But that’s really the point: The LA Times, like its Gotham counterpart, is so consumed by its “agenda” that it misses the real news going on right under its nose, and it if happens to stumble into it anyway, routinely misreports it.

For those who are looking for a comprehensive criticism of the LA Times on a nearly daily basis, no one does it better than Patterico.
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UPDATE: WOW–Tribune Company (symbol TRB), The LA Times parent, has seen its stock fall from $52.84 on 2/11/04 to Thursday’s close of $35.83–a loss of 32% in less than 18 months. The Tribune has a slew of other media properties and also owns the Chicago Cubs, so pinning all of the blame for the decline on The LA Times’ dismal performance wouldn’t be fair, but it certainly hasn’t helped.
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UPDATE 2: Don’t forget that the now-deposed holier-than-thou Mr. Carroll delivered a blistering attack on Fox News (the attack begins about halfway through the article)–you know, the guys that are winning the media wars in an utter rout–at The University of Oregon a little over a year ago.
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UPDATE 3: Kaus weighs in, and ridicules the conventional wisdom of Carroll’s buddies at other MSM outlets that says Carroll quit because he was being asked to accept draconian budget cuts, and wouldn’t. Well, John, these things happen when your news slants cause circulation and ad revenue to drop like a rock. I think that’s known as “just desserts.” Once again: These guys and gals really believe that “Journalism” should be exempt from the laws of economics, business, even exempt from the law itself. The shrinking will continue as long as the mindset doesn’t change.
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UPDATE 4, July 24: Patterico points to a Columbia Journalism Review interview of Carroll. It is so breathtakingly clueless (both interviewer and interviewee) you have to read the whole thing, if you can stand it.

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