The Rip Post                                                                                              


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July 31, 2008

          Sam Zell, you are the death rattle of newspapers in arguably human form. You are so profoundly and willfully ignorant of the importance of newspapers, so completely devoid of respect for their function in this society, that it causes the brain to bend over, clutch its sides, and purge itself of any remaining hope and sense. Who has time and energy and brain cells for sense when the world---let alone, newspapers---is increasingly taken over by the strictly, bone-deeply, unapologetically, apocalyptically. . .venal?
          "Partners," you so nauseatingly write to your terrified Tribune Company/L.A. Times slaves, with transparently phoney bonhomie and camaraderie, "newspapers are a business." Har! I love this expression, especially when applied to pro sports, as it usually is. No, no, no, I yell (at the TV), "Sports are not, repeat not, a business. They are fun games that happen to have acquired business trappings!"
          And newspapers, well, they are necessary parts of a healthy society that happen also to be businesses. They are, Sam, the fourth estate---the supposed watchdog on government and yes, business, that looks out for the interests of "the people." You know, the last line of defense between us and Dick Cheney. But never mind this, Sam. We have Matt Drudge and Fox.

People stroked their chins raw and bloody in that joint. Hordes of reporters sat on their haunches, turning out as many as a half-dozen articles a year. Or one or two. Really.

          So, dear readers, you all probably know that the Zell-ot has decided to fire about 120 more editorial employees from the L.A. Times, which, if my count is correct, should leave the staff somewhere near 50,000. Okay, maybe 600-700. Seven Hundred editorial employees to put out a newspaper! Not bad! How did Zell arrive at this figure and decision? By (giggle) counting the number (giggle) of pages (giggle giggle) produced by a given journalist in a (giggle) year! This reminds me of the wonderful criticism of Mozart's music in "Amadeus:" "Too many notes."
          What a way to evaluate productivity at the L.A. Times, where some reporters have as many as five by-lines a year! Giggle!
          Of course, I don't care too much for the Times, and never have. You could light a whole city with the energy expended in listing my reasons for this, but don't worry---I won't bore you with that. The Times was what it was---a carpeted dinless den of incredibly highly paid "journalists" (as opposed to reporters) who were brainwashed by management into thinking they were "great," and usually comported themselves accordingly. From elegant fashion finery to BMWs to urgent phone calls to Guatemalen maids to noses aimed at building tops, you could spot a Times reporter like a nude woman in church.
          No management memo or theater ad could ever, ever avoid referring to the Times as a "great newspaper" producing "great journalism," when in fact it was mostly just a great big newspaper (as I love to say.) Even the new guy promoted to editor from within, Russ Stanton, who supposedly will know how to "take the paper into the 21st century" and all other corny, meaningless sloganeering, is falling prey to the "great" disease in his memos. Geez, Russ.
          Well, like it or hate it, The Times did, in fact, do some great reporting, have great foreign correspondents (still does), and break some great stories/scandals. It still will, probably, by mere percentages. In other words, there are so many reporters there, some are bound to do good---maybe great---work.

Those in the spring of life will survive on Spring Street. The wizened, hoary, and "colorful" will get the boot.

          But it was never a great local paper, or even a very good local paper, which was its GREAT failing. The Times's sorry hallmarks? Stories that were usually interminable, with buried ledes (they call them, ha ha ha, "nut grafs," ha ha ha), stuffy, wildly pretentious "interpretive" writing, namby-pamby editorials, sickeningly P.C. style guides, and that you-can't-kill-it-with-nukes sense of "if it wasn't in the Times, it didn't happen" arrogance. People stroked their chins raw and bloody in that joint. Hordes of reporters sat on their haunches, turning out as many as a half-dozen articles a year. Or one or two. Really.
          Them days is gone. Yosemite Sam is a comin', you varmints, and he's got his guns out. Or his scissors. This goofy son-of-a-bitch has decided that the paper needs to be 50-50 ads and editorial copy. 50-50 ads and news. And that overall, it needs to be skinnier---to have fewer pages. That's his plan for saving dough: Give people less for their money!           The Zell-ot's latest memo is full of platitudes and crap about how "we're not giving readers what they want" and how the "business model doesn't work" (love those "business model references, as if this is all an exact science), and how readers want "honest, unbiased" (yawn, yawn, triple yawn) journalism and other totally crackpot junkaroo.
          So the Zell-ot plans to cut X-number of pages a year in order to save money, never mind that the paper is already so thin you can't really have the fun of calling it "great big" anymore. Especially since they are now about to kill the Sunday mag. Okay, they're not really killing it, they're just turning it over to some girl who used to be a host on the Home Shopping Network. Exclamation point. Remember the big LAT "advertorial" scandal involving the Sunday mag, under Mark "Cereal Killer" Willes? The snake eats itself!
          Though my sympathies are tentative at best, what is happening in the latest "round of cutbacks" reminds me of Madame Mao and the Cultural Revolution. You know which heads are going to roll, don't you? The ones with lots of hair dye and nips and tucks. A whole bunch of young cool Times staffers recently gathered in the editor's office where they were apparently told their jobs were secure. Har! Those in the spring of life will survive on Spring Street. The wizened, hoary, and "colorful" will get the boot. |
          And while I really do sympathize and empathize with career journalists trying to figure out what-the-fuck-to-do at age 55 (gasp), I am not terribly upset about the loss of those stuffy, arrogant, "great" journalists who turned out a half-dozen stories a year in order to fund their $2 million mini-manse in Montrose and put Zoey, Ranger, and Josh through private school.
          As the great USC prof, Joe Saltzman, once told me:
          "Journalism used to be working class people---people who were poor, and identified with the poor, sick, and indigent, and the people who didn't really have a voice. And who cared about the working class, because they were a part of the working class---like Breslin still is. Studs Terkel.
          "Nowadays, the young people going into journalism---even the old-timers---are purely of the middle and upper middle class. They make a lot of money, comparatively, and they really don't identify with the working class."
          Anyhow, I cancelled my Times subscription two years ago.

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