Baquet to O'Shea: Tribune installs its guy at the Los Angeles Times.

Media criticism.
Nov. 8 2006 7:57 PM

Baquet to O'Shea

Tribune installs its guy at the Los Angeles Times. What's next?

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Such attention is not a good thing. Readers who might not have previously noticed, say, a marginal reduction in the paper's news hole to make more money will be watching O'Shea with binoculars and night-vision goggles. Palpable cuts in the Times' quality will immediately translate into more ill will. Ill will has a way of translating into fewer copies sold and fewer advertisers. Lower circulation and fewer ad dollars almost always lower a newspaper's stock value, and that's something Tribune, which is preparing itself for sale, wants to avoid at all costs.

What if Tribune has tasked O'Shea with cutting costs but not necessarily head count? The loss of more full-time editorial staffers is the emotional focus of the Times drama. From his Tribune tenure, he's learned how to make slices look like pinpricks, at least from the reader's perspective. Before taking the Times job, he must have studied its books and thought through the whole exercise: what features to delete from the paper; what bureaus to trim; what staff to reassign; which special sections to unload from the editorial staff; and only then to reduce a few heads.

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As a serious bicyclist, O'Shea knows all about "gram shavers," the obsessives who pare every bit of extraneous weight from their bikes to increase road speed. They remove the water-bottle cages from their frames, unscrew and toss the valve cap from their tires, and drill holes in their shift levers. To neophytes, the bike looks normal. Only the other obsessives detect the changes.

Of course, there's no point to gram-shaving unless it actually helps you win. When O'Shea assumes control of the Los Angeles Times on Monday, he should write himself a note reminding himself that there will be no point to whittling the paper to fiscal perfection unless he also makes it better, which won't be easy given Baquet's successes, or more commercial.

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As a serious swimmer, I drill my skull before my morning workout. It hasn't improved my performance, but I am a little more lightheaded. Send your performance tips to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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*Correction, Nov. 9, 2006: This piece originally included a photo captioned "James O'Shea, gram-shaver." The photo was not of O'Shea. It has been replaced with a photo of O'Shea supplied by the Chicago Tribune.

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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