Worst of the Los Angeles Times

Joshua Quittner and Michelle Slatalla

Worst of the Los Angeles Times

Joshua Quittner and Michelle Slatalla

Worst of the Los Angeles Times
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Nov. 4 1999 4:43 PM

Joshua Quittner and Michelle Slatalla

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I love that story! Especially how that one LI town went Democrat for the first time since 1910! Ah, local politics ...

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But for sheer, holiday-spirit drama, you just can't beat The Otis Chandler Story today. I was practically weeping--weeping, I tell you--when I read the excerpt from the letter the former, great publisher of the Los Angeles Times wrote, castigating Mark H. Willes, chairman and chief executive of Times Mirror Co., and company for the sheer, unmitigated crap (my paraphrasing here) the ex-cereal magnate has been pulling since he took over the now hapless paper. The letter was read aloud to a cheering L.A. Times newsroom on Wednesday, and I like to imagine Willes cowering in his office seriously stroking his greased mustaches à la Snidely Whiplash. (Note: Willes does not, as far as I know, have a mustache; this is how my brain works, as you know.)

In any event, for those of you not following along at home, Chandler was a lion of American journalism who during his 20-year tenure remade the Times from a local paper to one of the four important newspapers every thinking human ought to read every day (quick: Name the other three!). Sadly, he was forced to retire from the board of directors of Times Mirror Co. last year when he turned 70. And even sadder, he was the last thing that stood between the paper and calamity. The Times has steadily lost its place among the great rags, thanks mainly to the laughingstock way in which it has has been "reinvented." How?

Let Chandler summarize:

I am well aware of the ill-advised steps that have been taken by the current management ... such as the unrealistic and impossible goal of adding a million circulation, which was announced when Mr. Willes came in. Many of these new marketing programs that were first announced by Mr. Willes have been tried and appear to be unsuccessful. For example, he suggested that the breaking down of the traditional editorial/business wall and appointing of business managers was going to result in new growth to the paper in terms of additional advertising volume, possible circulation growth, and increased profitability. Mr. Willes was quoted at the time in many national media stories as saying he was going to reinvent newspapers, inferring that the traditional system was outdated and was in effect a dinosaur concept.

Oh dear. The letter goes on like that for about five glorious, Frank Capra-esque pages. Journalists everywhere ought to frame it. There ought to be a parade in honor of Chandler and dummies of Willes burned in effigy. Ah, but the marketing department would never allow it, would they? Last words from Chandler, my pet; it's been great e-mailing you. See you at supper:

One cannot successfully run a great newspaper like the Los Angeles Times with executives in the top two positions, both of whom have no newspaper experience at any level. Successfully running a newspaper is not like any other business.

Joshua Quittner is Time's technology columnist and editor of Time Digital. Michelle Slatalla writes a weekly column about online shopping for the New York Times "Circuits" section. They are the authors of Masters of Deception: The Gang That Ruled Cyberspace (click here to buy it).