Is this why there was no coverage of the Rise and Fall of Fremont General?
The L.A. Times's Human Wrecking Ball
By Harold Meyerson -- [veteran Los Angeles-based editor and columnist]
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
On Oct. 1, 1910, a bomb set by James McNamara, an operative of the Iron Workers union, then embroiled in a ferocious dispute with the Los Angeles Times, blew up the Times building, killing 21 pressmen. McNamara was arrested the following April, convicted and later sentenced to life in prison. He died in San Quentin in 1941.
The question for today is: Would a similar sentence be appropriate for Sam Zell?
Zell, for those of you fortunate enough not to follow news of the newspaper business, is the Chicago real estate magnate who last year purchased the Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and a number of smaller papers. At the rate he's going, he's well on his way to accomplishing a feat that McNamara didn't even contemplate: destroying the L.A. Times.
In his brief tenure atop the Trib empire, Zell has concluded that the proper response to the very real troubles in which the newspaper industry finds itself is to cut back on what newspapers offer. When Zell took over, the Times had already been through successive rounds of buyouts and layoffs administered by Tribune executives, but Zell has taken bean counting to a whole new level.
It's Zell's money, some would argue -- only, it's not. Of the $8.2 billion he used to take the paper private last year, Zell put up $315 million of his own money and used the employee stock ownership plan (without the consent of any employees, of course) to finance the rest. It's all legal, but that hardly means the deal was good for journalism or the cities where Zell owns papers.
Who next will the LA Times be sold to -- the KOCH Brothers?
Great newspapers take decades to build. We are discovering that they can be dismantled in relatively short order. The Los Angeles Times was a hyperpartisan, parochial broadsheet until Otis Chandler became its publisher in 1960 and began the work of transforming it into the paper of both record and insight that it's been for the past half-century. The diminution of such a paper diminishes its city, which is why L.A.'s otherwise disparate civic elites have periodically tried to restore the Times to local control since the Trib bought it at the turn of this century. Instead, in Zell, what Los Angeles has is a visiting Visigoth, whose civic influence is about as positive as that of the Crips, the Bloods and the Mexican mafia. Life in San Quentin sounds about right.