September 21, 2014
Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times
Posted on Nov 3, 2009
The national headlines touched off a rebellion in the newsroom at the Los Angeles Times. A petition was circulated demanding an apology from Kathryn Downing, the publisher. The next day, Downing met with the staff in the company cafeteria, filled beyond capacity. For ninety minutes, she faced unrelenting, belligerent questioning. She apologized “to each of you . . . To have the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or anyone for that matter question our integrity is a horrendous place to be, and I am responsible for that.”
Otis Chandler watched all this from his ranch in Ojai. He had grown skeptical of Willes. “The Times is at great risk I think being run by people who have good intentions, are smart and so on, but no experience,” he said. “I think there’s a vulnerability.”
But Chandler no longer had any power at the Times. In 1998, he had been dropped from the board after he expressed his feelings about the family to journalist David Margolick for a 1996 profile in Vanity Fair. Margolick quoted him saying his relatives were “coupon clippers . . . elitists . . . bored with the problems of AIDS and the homeless and drive-by shootings.” He was not even offered the choice of staying on as a non-voting director, a gesture often offered to other board members.
Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times
By Bill Boyarsky / Based on the film by Peter Jones
Angel City Press, 208 pages
There were no longer any Chandlers on the staff of the Los Angeles Times. Otis’s oldest son, Norman, had undergone the same training program as his father and, like Otis, particularly enjoyed his work as a reporter. He learned how to cover the news, was intelligent, seemed to have the spark of leadership, and was popular with his co-workers. But Otis didn’t think Norman merited high command in the company:
The issue was moot. Norman was discovered to have an inoperable brain tumor and died after a long decline.
His other son, Harry, was also interested in coming into the company, but his father didn’t offer him the opportunity for executive training that Norman had experienced. Harry finally went to work at the Times in its new media area. “I joined without him making a phone call,” Harry said. But he said Willes wasn’t interested in new media. “And I think as a Chandler, Mark Willes didn’t feel like [I was] his best friend . . . ” But even if Otis had been the pushiest of fathers, the family members controlling the board never would have given power to his sons. The Chandler era was just about over.
After the Staples scandal broke, Otis brooded at his ranch. Then he wrote a long message to the editorial department. He placed a call to the city editor, one of the few staff members he still knew, and asked him to deliver the message to the staff. The city editor, seated at his computer, took it down.
Otis read his remarks over the phone, with words reflecting his fury and sorrow:
At six o’clock that evening, after the paper’s deadline, the city editor called the entire staff together and read Otis’s words to a packed newsroom. There was silence while the message was read, followed by applause. Soon after, pictures of Otis were posted throughout the big room.
Downing called Otis “angry and bitter.” Somewhat surprisingly, his foes in the family were resentful of her statement—who was she to insult a Chandler? Even before the Staples scandal, the family had been considering selling Times Mirror. Willes had pretty much stripped the company down to its print enterprises, and it was clear by 2000 that the newspaper business was heading downhill. Downing’s insult to Otis and the intensive national coverage of the Staples controversy gave the family a final push toward concluding the sale. On March 13, 2000, Times Mirror became part of the company that owned the Chicago Tribune.
Otis said he was pleased that the Tribune Company was taking over. A few weeks later, he and Bettina returned to the paper for the first time since he had been dismissed from the board. With Bettina at his side, he walked through the entire newsroom, past the pictures of him still hanging there. He stopped at every department. The journalists crowded around him, wanting to greet him. Many were meeting him for the first time.
He had brought integrity, honor and civic responsibility to the Los Angeles Times as well as great prosperity. Aware of what he had given to the paper—and knowing those days were passing—the workers on the newsroom floor were proud to shake his hand.
“Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times”
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