Thursday, October 07, 2010

Wonder why your Los Angeles Times is not what it used to be?

This article from yesterday's NY Times describes how sharks and cads descended upon the Chicago Tribune which had purchased the Los Angeles Times in a deal so leveraged, it was clear to many insiders and few watching from outside that it was heading for bankruptcy to break the workers and harm the creditors.

The story of the Los Angeles Times from say the late 19th Century through the present is a fascinating one. It goes from the days of Harrison Gray Otis and his coziness and support for railroad and water project "robber barons" and calls for vigilante violence against labor leaders (which led to the labor radical McNamara Brothers firebombing the Times a hundred years ago this month) and, under Otis grandson, Norman Chandler, its role in fostering the rise of Richard M. Nixon to its phase under Otis Chandler--a visionary, liberal minded New Dealer sort of person with a cross-over into "Mad Men" sensibilities--where the Times consciously tried to become the premier newspaper in the nation along with the NY Times. Treating workers well and good quality went hand in hand. One thing that did not and has never changed: The LA Times has rarely met a union it liked, or a worker-killing trade deal it did not like. Just the tone changed starting under Otis Chandler, from a sneering and screaming hatred of unions to an understated, but firm opposition...

In any event, with the hardening of the new Gilded Age culture that descended upon our nation under Ronald Reagan and his spiritual protege, William Jefferson Clinton, those who have loyally read the newspaper have seen what has occurred...The paper feels like it is one-third the size, its book review truncated, the front page stories not as detailed, great reporters reduced to once a week interview slots with newsmakers, etc. Other great reporters leave quietly and attempt to survive in a much tougher world for workers overall...

The Times influences and is influenced by the trends in our nation. We should not be surprised, therefore, to see guys like Zell (and with the Dodgers, Frank McCourt) who used leveraged buyouts to make millions, and destroy the community spirit that existed in these large companies.

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