Blogging from the passenger terminal at LAX:
Some have called it an "Alamo strategy." The editor of the L.A. Times
, Dean Baquet
, has boldly drawn a line in the sand against his own employers, saying he refuses to make $10 million in cuts being demanded by the Tribune Company.
The general public may shrug it shoulders, but this battle
is indeed of titanic proportions for journalists and for the future of journalism. Baquet has been joined in his public defiance by none other than publisher Jeff Johnson
. And by an ad hoc group
of 19 L.A. luminaries who suggest that the best thing to do is for the Tribune Co. to back off and maybe to relinquish control of the Times to local entrprenuers (several local billionaires including David Geffen have already volunteered to make the buy).
The letter is a noble gesture but is likely to be taken pretty much the same way as if Davey Crockett had risen above the parapets to shout out to General Santa Ana
: "Go Back to Mexico!"
The suits at Tribune -- owner of ten newspapers, two dozen TV stations and the Chicago Cubs-- seem intent to come storming right over the wall, beheading Baquet and proceeding to further hack up the Times. They want to cut the current editorial staff of just under a thousand to about 850. If they get their way, the staff will be 30% smaller than six years ago.
Is Baquet some sort of dinosaur, resisting sound business management? Hardly. Against pretty stiff odds he's trying to retain the integrity of a great newspaper now mortally threatened by -- well, no other way to say this other than -- greedy, short-sighted businessmen.
The L.A. Times is hardly bleeding revenues. Most informed observers figure that it's raking in a luscious annual profit of about 20% against a billion dollars in income. That's a fabulous rate for any business, especially one of such scale. But the Chicago Tribune's sucking in profit at a staggering 30% annual rate, and that's what the suits want from the Times. That the ChiTown paper is decidedly a second-rate product seems of absolutely no concern.
As it is, the Times is struggling to retain subscription levels. Has anyone figured out that by cutting into its news gathering capacity its local allure will only wane?
This Thursday the Tribune board will be meeting and you can be sure that Baquet's heroic rebellion will be at the top of the agenda. And just as certainly, one imagines that the proposed remedies will be draconian -- corporations are not known to wink at full-scale, public mutiny.
The founding family of the Times -- the Chandlers-- who still hold a chunk of stock have been proposing an alternate course for the company, trying to force a sell-off of the broadcast arm (in L.A. the gawdawful Channel 5). There's some slim hope that reason and good sense will prevail and bloodshed will be avoided.
In the meantime, Baquet's gesture is a rare stand of courage in an industry consumed by fear, greed and cowardice.
: Times staffers circulate a petition