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Breaking Up With the LA Times

January 30th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

la-times-last-paper-3.jpg

I’ve subscribed faithfully to the LA Times for over 30 years
and, with great regret, I just this minute cancelled my subscription.

I thought about cancelling after the Times folded the Sunday Book Review and the Sunday Opinion into other sections of the paper, but I kept on paying for the daily print edition, even though I’d switched to online reading nearly exclusively a year or more before. I clung to the physical paper, mostly out of loyalty to my wonderful, soulful and very talented friends who still write and edit for the Times.

(Although, just how many of them will be left after the new round of 70 newsroom firings reportedly to come is another question altogether.)

Today’s news, however, that publisher Eddy Hartenstein had chosen to yank the California section was simply the final straw. (For the details as to why the decision was made, see LA Observed’s announcement from this morning. And here’s what Patterico and the LA Weekly’s Steven Mikulan had to say.)

To be honest, cancelling the newspaper felt terrible—like a relational break-up, which in a sense it was. But the Times was beginning to resemble an abusive boyfriend who is there for the sex, but then whacks you around with abandon because he doesn’t really like or respect you.

Today it became clear to me that the paper’s management neither liked nor respected me. Or you. Or your neighbors, if any of them are still subscribing.

My neighbors aren’t. I was the last holdout on the street.

When I told Kevin, the very nice subscription services guy, why I was cancelling, he asked me if there was any deal they could make that would get me to reconsider. (When you cancel, like the suddenly apologetic and flower-bearing bad boyfriend, they ask you for a reason, then try to bribe you.)

“Put back the California section,” I said.

“I have no confirmation that it’s been cancelled…” Kevin began weakly.

“It has. Trust me.”

Kevin didn’t press it.

I told him that, given the Times’ upper management’s obvious disregard for the paper’s readers, to keep subscribing after today would be “the moral equivalent of enabling a drug addict.”

“I see,” said Kevin. Then after a pause,“I’ll convey your thoughts to the editors.” There was fatigue in his voice. I guessed it had already been a long day.

I felt guilty for my drug addict remark, so I told Kevin I knew that there were many excellent people who worked for the Times, and that, no doubt, he was one of them.

“Thank you,” he said. Again with the tired voice. After that, we rang off.

Listen: I more than understand the new and grim economic realities of the newspaper business. All papers are cutting. They have no other choice.

I met the art director of the Washington Post when I was in D.C. for the inauguration. When he introduced himself he said, “I work for a dying industry,” and we had a mordant laugh about the state of the profession.

Still most papers, the WaPo included, are doing their best to cut with a scalpel, not an ax, whereas the Times has consistently chosen a wood ax as its tool of choice.

I was at the Annenberg School of Journalism all day yesterday. And, despite the bleak outlook for print journalism, the discussions in which I was involved were heartening for their innovative ideas and cautious optimism about the work of news gathering and journalism in general.

Unfortunately, although the paper is blessed with a hardworking and talented news staff, the LA Times/Tribune management seems to possess neither optimism—cautious or otherwise—nor a feel for anything resembling innovation (that awful Abrams man, most prominently included).

So I broke up with them.

Like most break-ups, it hurts. But, while painful—as is always the case—finally doing the honest thing is a relief.

Now, at least, I can respect myself in the morning.

Posted in Los Angeles Times, media | 27 Comments »

27 Responses

  1. Rebel Girl Says:

    I know how you feel.

    *sigh*

  2. heartofgold Says:

    It will be a long and ugly break up. This relationship isn’t over, trust me. Like Ferris Bueller to his friend Cameron: They will keep calling you, and calling you, and calling you. Papers will still show up at your door. Then a notice that you haven’t paid your bill will show up. The paper is a corporate version of a psycho ex-boyfriend who won’t allow you to break up with him.

  3. WBC Says:

    Ditto, and I agree with those who think Business should have been folded into Calendar instead of cutting Calendar. My delivery lady is lonely on my street too, and same experience, when I tried to cancel after the front section shrank and price went up, they bribed me with a better offer. Since I read it online night before anyway, I’m wondering… but I love to read Calendar reviews, especially for art museum exhibits, in color and in my hand.

    But gee, Celeste, what kind of scuzzy men HAVE you known, anyway? Likening the Times to some guy “who whacks you around with abandon because he doesn’t really like or value you,” after he’s had sex… But yeah, we thought Zell was as bad as it could get and yet it’s only gotten worse with his recent hires.

  4. WBC Says:

    Darn, I meant “instead of cutting California” to keep Calendar. Has something to do with number of sections they can run at one time and Calendar needs more updating than California — which doesn’t make sense to me. Except for Awards nights, isn’t breaking news, like a serial killer or Hillside Burglar loose in your area, more timely than that?

  5. Celeste Fremon Says:

    WBC, fortunately, the relationships with the men in my life have been far superior to my recent relationship with the Times.

  6. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Okay, heartofgold just proved my point.

  7. GM Roper Says:

    Celeste girlfriend, some of us wouldn’t have gone out with that “psycho” in the first place. :)

  8. John Moore Says:

    The Arizona Repulsive did the same thing here a decade or so ago. They had a great Arizona section, and replaced it with Parade or some such pap.

    With the internet, I don’t need them any more, and I haven’t had that Sunday section to enjoy for years. So I dropped my subscription.

    It’s interesting that newspapers drop things that distinguish their brand and add local value. Bizarre.

  9. Ishmael Says:

    What’s going to happen to George Skelton and Steve Lopez?

  10. Celeste Fremon Says:

    They’ll be folded into section one, I’m guessing. It’s so creepy.

  11. clean hands Says:

    There is a another plus to reading the newspaper on-line….clean hands and clean walls, but taking the computer into the bathroom to read the on-line newspaper is a hassle.

  12. Woody Says:

    Try lining your birdcage or training your puppy with the internet.

    If you were the last one on your street getting home delivery and given your distance from the city as I perceive it, it probably wasn’t worth the paper’s delivery cost to you. You might have helped them to make more money!

    In other bad publishing news, MAD is going quarterly after April.

  13. Woody Says:

    Celeste, here’s a song for you – Breakin’ Up Is Hard To Do – Neil Sedaka (I like the go-go girls in the background.)

    Maybe the LAT will play the “Baby Come Back” song to you, like is played in the Swisher commercials.

  14. Woody Says:

    Nice Persian rug.

  15. john herbert Says:

    Regarding the LA Times and the recent changes, there is an alternative!

    I am talking about the NY Times, available every day at literally any and every Starbucks in LA! This is one of the very best if not THE BEST newspapers in the United States!

    Two things I’ll readily acknowledge here -

    First, this has always been, at least to me, the “other paper”, the one from New York, from far away. Our LA Times (the old LA Times) was our California paper.

    Second, the NY Times costs a buck – fifty, ($1.50), at Starbucks which certainly isn’t as cheap as the LA Times. Since I go to work early each morning and can’t get reliable early delivery ( i.e.. 4:30 am) I always buy at Starbucks. Subscriptions probably costs less, but will still be more than the LA Times.

    In the good ol’ days either one of the above points could have, would have, been a deal breaker but this is a new era and a new reality for printed news. Having said that, let me also introduce you to the good news : the NY Times REALLY IS THAT GOOD! Try my simple comparison test, one I’ve used to convert (and in some cases silence the complaining from) my friends that were defenders of the LA Times:

    On any given day, take the front sections of both papers and lay them on a table, one above the other or side by side, with enough room such that you can fully open each paper. Now do just that – open each paper, page by page, simultaneously and compare the news coverage; the amount of actual news on each page vs. ad copy, the coverage given international and national news. The number of pages, in total, that comprise the front sections of each one. You will quickly see the difference.

    I won’t kid you, it is depressing to do this and truly realize how far the LA Times has fallen. But nonetheless the truth is the LA Times is an imposter, a fake, a fraud masquerading as a national newspaper and it does not deserve our support. I don’t have any answers for the people who work there. I feel sorry, almost ashamed in a sense, to criticize the paper where I know so many work; it’s not their fault, but the LA Times of today is a thin shell of itself, not worth a dime to me. I am alternately quite mad at Zell and the gang, and I don’t want them to have one cent of my money or support.

    Ultimately there is no easy way to slide into death, let alone a death of this sort, but the reality is the LA Times is dying. As the doctors will tell you when a person has a fatal disease and will not recover, they can take actions to make the sick person more comfortable, to prolong their life, but their actions will not be curative; the patient is going to ultimately die in the end.

    Such is the case with our LA Times.

  16. WBC Says:

    John Herbert, you seem to be missing the point, that what we’re lamenting is precisely the loss of LOCAL coverage in the California/ metro. In fact, many have felt it should be a lot more specialized by communities, not less so, since the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys are vastly different from “metro LA” south of Ventura, and within metro, the westside, coastal areas, Hollywood, mid-Wilshire, south and East L A are not only different but also all often competing for the same city and county resources. Reading the NYT for its front section leaves us with an even more total lack of coverage. (If NYT tries to fill the breach by covering our local news that would be as scary as what Chicago-centrism has done to us.)

    The NYT being just “across the pond” from Europe definitely has a more continental slant, than we do self-consciously “on the Pacific rim,” and the borders of Latin America. Though I prefer the Financial Times of London to NYT when it comes to world news, and putting America in perspective.

    Many of us have been aware for decades of the difference in “intellectual vigor,” which broadly reflects the difference between LA’s popular culture and NYC’s “high culture” and more indoorsy interests like art museums, theatre and reading, which you can pursue indoors yearround, and which give you something to talk about over cocktails or dinner. As a former New Yorker, I actually used to talk about this stuff with friends on a daily basis, and we really believed it mattered. (Okay we were the seven-sisters/Ivy League types lured to the city precisely for this lifestyle, but there were LOTS and lots of us, and those who weren’t, often wanted to be instead of sneering at such things. It’s that mentality which makes a difference and nurtures a challenging paper, and vice versa.)

    Even in the early 80′s, when the LAT was still vital but if you compared the size and depth of reviews of NYT Book Review to LA’s even when ours had its own section, the difference was clear. Ditto with the Calendar — even now the LAT has a thick one, but it’s apparently going to become even more focused on happenings/trends of the moment instead of the more substantive and time-consuming narratives that really inform us about culture and the world in ways that quick and dirty sound-bites don’t. In other words, setting about to make itself even more irrelevant in an internet age.

  17. john herbert Says:

    WBC,
    You are right and I do owe you and the readers an apology for not mentioning the aspect of local news coverage. I had actually intended to do so, but was distracted here at home this morning while typing. I came back to my letter and, and wanting to post it without further delay, did so. However, in doing so I forgot to cover one of my initial thoughts, namely that the only thing missing from truly having the NY Times stand a real, serious chance of dominating the California market was the absence of a solid local news bureau. (I would presume somewhat that if they thought they could attract more subscriptions they would in turn lower the current price to draw more in.)

    Could you imagine what it would be like to have the NY Times report California with the same quality they report the rest of the news in their paper?

    Having said that, let me be the first to acknowledge the fact that there are any number of reasons why it’ll never come to fruition. By the same token though, the facts remain rather indisputable in terms of the LA Times and its future: It will never, ever be what it once was. I may not get the local news I want there, but the NY Times is a far, far better newspaper under any circumstances than the LA Times could ever hope to be.

  18. no news is good news Says:

    The L.A. Mayor and L.A. city council love the lack of local news coverage and the lack of interest in local politics.

    http://www.ladowntownnews.com/articles/2009/02/02/news/02-02-09-news03.txt

    “In what could turn out to be the worst election in the history of Los Angeles, eight prominent local officeholders are ready to steamroll their way to another term. From the mayor’s “race” on down, and with only a couple of exceptions, Los Angeles’ next exercise in democracy is set to rubber stamp the words “four more years” across the office doors of many of the folks who already run the city”

  19. Gabriel Lerner Says:

    Celeste, this is a painful day, another one in a series of catastrophic news about the demise of major newspapers. Five or six years ago I went to Sacramento and visited the LAT office. 15 reporters and a senior editor, and George Skelton. This doesn’t exist anymore. The number of reporters and editors in the area they had was reduced since 2001 to less than half, having more inexperienced reporters, assigning less writers for each story, not following up, not investigating… This is not something that happened in one day. You cut and cut in the section and one day you realize there is nothing else to cut from, and from what used to be a journalistic jewel there is a name and not much more. The likes of Zell see journalists as waste and manage by attrition, layouts and advice from bankers and lawyers.
    As for the replacement to the newsPAPER, I don’t know: not everybody has a computer, or time to browse looking for news. In LA, half of Latinos don’t have one and in the other half, only the kids use the internet. So if it is true and digital media is the future, we will witness not only the dissapearing of the newsroom, but also of many of today’s readers.

  20. Alan Mittelstaedt Says:

    With the paper available online, isn’t this an empty symbolic gesture that you and many others are making? Or, are you vowing not even to look at the Web site? I hope not. You would have missed some solid local stories that made the front page today. I am in no way defending the paper’s anemic local coverage, but you and I have too many talented friends at that paper to turn our backs on them now. I say reinstate your subscription. Fill in the gaps of local coverage by reading and supporting local Web sites and blogs like this one.

  21. john herbert Says:

    Hey Alan,
    No disrespect intended, but are you high on drugs? i won’t give a damn dime to Zell to furhter advance this joke of a paper. And I’m not going tobe guilted into providing some sort of perverse public welfare for the staff. No. Not even.

  22. Woody Says:

    When a paper makes so many liberals upset, one has to wonder if it isn’t doing something right.

  23. Mavis Beacon Says:

    Dropped my subscription at the last round of layoffs. Alan, I can’t say the LA Times has ever appealed to me as a charity. If they are going to cut all the stuff I like, (ya, know, the news) well, they’re going to have to look elsewhere for subscription dollars.

  24. Edward Padgett Says:

    Friday night as I sipped on chocolate oatmeal stout San Dimas City Councilman Denis Bertone pulled up a seat and asked “What’s new at the Los Angeles Times”? After I mentioned the California Section would become history he shook his head in disbelief and said he may drop his subscription, as this is his favorite section of the newspaper.

    With a single copy price increase from fifty cents to seventy-five cents just a few weeks ago, it appears the Los Angeles Times is headed to an online version only as the company is doing everything in it’s power to drive circulation numbers to zero.

  25. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Alan, I don’t think you were talking to me, but for the record, of course I read, and will continue to read the paper on line–multiple times a day. I am devoted to he wonderful people who still work there and continue to depend on the fine work they do.

    John H, I don’t agree with your assessment of the Times of past days, or even now, for all my harsh words. I loved, and still love— in a desperately sad and sort of masochistic kind of way—my LA Times.

    But, I agree with Ed Padgett above, it’s clear that ZellCo is doing all it can to lower its subscription numbers. Zell stated as much some time ago. (I’ve forgotten what the target number was. 800,000 sticks in my mind but that may be wrong. Ed do you remember?)

    When I was on the phone with Kevin-the-subscription guy, once he accepted that I could not be talked out of cancelling, he offered to send daily links to the online edition, so it seems that they would rather have those eyes online rather than getting the physical paper.

    These people don’t want me (or you) as a subscriber, so I’ve finally decide to cooperate and put my money elsewhere, rather than cling.

    But, paradoxically, cancelling my subscription is the only way I know to register a complaint. Letters to the editor certainly don’t do it.

    Gabriel, I know that lots of lower income families don’t have computers, but most I know have access to computers, either through the library, schools or at their work places. (As demonstrated by everybody’s kids’ MySpace pages.) And they aren’t subscribing to the LA Times anyway. I mean if you don’t have a computer at your house, you sure aren’t going to plunk down the monthly fee to subscribe to the LA Times. At least no one I know in east LA does unless they’ve got the kind of middle class household that also has computers. (And even so I can only think of maybe one person, and I’m no longer sure about her.)

    John, H, I get the Sunday NY Times, as they will give a book review section. But, daily? Nah. I see no reason. Online’s fine. And it would feel too disloyal. (How sad is that????)

    One bright spot in an otherwise grim circumstance, cancelling my subscription certainly makes my Wednesday recycling job a LOT easier. (Did you know that the newspapers in your recycling pile have babies during the night? It is a proven fact.)

  26. WBC Says:

    I’m not going to cancel my subscription til I actually see the new paper in March — one blogger whose name I don’t want to give credit to because I generally dislike and disagree with him makes a valid point here: maybe folding local news into the front section will turn out to be a GOOD thing, finally making the Times the local paper many wanted it to be all along.

    I’ll reserve judgment and if I do cancel after the first new issue, think it’ll carry more weight, showing a direct cause-effect linkage.

    (Plus, the subscription people are practically giving me home delivery for free, or the cost of buying one Sunday paper at the inflated rate, so it’s hard to say no.)

  27. Kevin Says:

    I have thought about these things with my local papers, the Mercury News and the Chronicle, and I am conflicted. Both of the papers have gone way down hill over the last few years, and have printed a load of crap over that period, but at the same time I wonder if cancelling my subscriptions would actually be a good thing.

    Then I read Woody’s wingnut drivel, and think that if they piss off yahoos like him, they must be doing something good.

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