Friday, October 28, 2005

If I Owned the Los Angeles Times

I grew up in a small town on Long Island with a local newspaper. You subscribed by mail, and it was about 64 pages or so of news and features and local happenings. It really was a lot of fun to read, even as a kid.

I now live in Burbank, and we have a decent paper, The Burbank Leader, that is 16 pages, mostly ads -- and, for some reason, a column about grammar -- and it is stuck twice a week inside the Los Angeles Times. That's the only way you can get it. It's really the only reason I subscribe to the Times. For those two or three articles about Burbank, twice a week.

That's why I've come up with a radical plan to remake the Times. It couldn't come at a better time for them, if all the media attention they've been getting lately is to be believed. Apparently there's a lot of turmoil and turnover, and they don't get along with their overlords in Chicago, and a lot of other stuff that Ken Auletta wrote in The New Yorker that sent the media world into a tizzy. (But then, nothing excites journalists like covering journalists covering journalists.)

Besides all that, circulation is down. The other day, the Times ran an article questioning the viability of procedural TV shows, including Law & Order, the audience for which has declined 5% from last year. No article has run questioning the viability of the Los Angeles Times, whose circulation has declined 7% since last year. (To put it in perspective, a first-run episode of Law & Order is typically watched by over 14 million people; a brand new issue of the Times is read by fewer than a million.)

So clearly some change would be welcome. I believe I have the answer.

Right now, this is the experience of reading the Times:

Open up the plastic bag, and withstand the foul, musty odor that comes out when you remove the paper. Okay, there's probably nothing I could do about that, but I'd sure like to try.

Then you have to wade through the A section, page after page of national and international news... only it's not news, is it?

Because you saw it on the network news and heard it on NPR last night and CNN and MSNBC yesterday and the Today show yesterday morning and read about it online the day before yesterday. Oh, and there's an analysis piece on one of the stories you're skipping over, quoting all the people you saw on TV yesterday. And another article repeating something that was reported in the New York Times or the Washington Post, that you also saw on TV yesterday.

So you skip to the B Section, where they report on God knows what... Lots of Sacramento stuff from reporters hoping to be promoted to the Washington bureau, writing articles about how this stuff is really important on the national level. Oh, and there's the weather. Because you didn't notice it when you went outside to get the paper.

Then there are the letters, often from idiots. And the editorials, telling you what the people who've shown such questionable news judgment for the last sixty pages or so think about the news from two days ago. And some columnists you already read online.

Then come Business and Calendar, which got all smushed together somehow along the way. Calendar used to be about arts and entertainment, but now all the entertainment stuff is in the Business section, and the Calendar is all museums and symphony and, for some reason, things like the gubernatorial recall election and columns about life in New York City.

Then there's Sports, for more old news, and a special section like Home or Food or Fire Bad or something that no one reads, and then they tuck your local paper deep inside. Then sixty pages of classified ads for stuff that was probably sold already on craigslist.

Okay, there has to be a better way, and I think I've got it.

First of all, shut down the building the Times is in, which I assume is downtown, because they only seem to cover downtown things no one I know cares about (like museums and symphonies).

Then shut down the Washington bureau, the Paris bureau and any other bureaus they've got going. Instead open up... oh, I don't know... a Burbank/Glendale/Toluca Lake/North Hollywood bureau. And bureaus in every other neighborhood.

See, in my version of the paper, every community's A section, the big thick one, would be the really, really local news. The stuff you can't find on TV (unless it's a murder, the local news won't touch it) and radio and online. The news you want to know:

What happened at the City Council meeting? Why is it taking so long to fix that onramp? What happened to that parking garage they were supposed to build on the corner near your office? What does the coach at the high school plan to do to break that losing streak? What was the problem on the street next to yours that had the police blocking off the street all morning?

What's going on in your community, in your rec centers, your parks, your schools? Forget about restaurants in neighborhoods you never go to that you could never get a reservation at anyway... What's good at the restaurant a few blocks away? What's that store they're opening up where the drugstore used to be? Something good, or another dry cleaner? That's the A section in my paper.

The next section? State news, Opinions, Letters. But no weather. Fuck 'em if they can't look outside.

The next section? Sports, Business, Entertainment. (And a column every day from Carina Chocano, of whom I've been a fan since her days writing "Chains of Love" recaps for Salon.com.)

The next section? Crosswords, Comics, Coupons.

Anything else we've got goes on the website.

And there you have it, my Los Angeles Times. It's a crazy, impractical dream... but so was penicillin once.

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