Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Not That Long Ago, the Los Angeles Times
Was Raking in the Profits. What happened?

By Mark Lacter

The Los Angeles Times took a while to sink so low—go back ten years, to the issue of October 10, 1999, and its ills were already beginning to show. In the world of journalism, the Sunday edition is still remembered for devoting the entire magazine to the soon-to-be-opened Staples Center—a package that turned out to be wildly controversial because the Times had agreed to share advertising revenue with the owners of the new venue. This was a serious breach of the long-established division between editorial and advertising, and it became a cause célèbre in the newsroom. “Respect and credibility for a newspaper is irreplaceable. Sometimes it can never be restored,” wrote former publisher Otis Chandler in a scathing letter directed to senior executives that was read in the Times newsroom.

But for all the attention the Staples scandal attracted, the paper’s future was telegraphed that Sunday in less obvious ways. The classified section was noticeably smaller than it had been a few years earlier, department store ads were being consolidated thanks to the mergers of several big chains (Robinsons, May Company, the Broadway), the TV magazine was getting competition from electronic listings on cable (the magazine was dropped in 2007), and the business section had page after page of stock quotes that were available from other sources two days earlier. “I can tell you, on the staff level we knew,” says Neil Kaplan, who had been a senior executive handling classified advertising and strategic planning in the late 1990s before moving on to several Internet ventures. “There came a time when we looked at each other and came to the realization that the fundamental economic structure of this industry was gone.” [Click for MORE]

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