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Ailing Journalism in Ailing Times

Posted on Jul 5, 2010
AP / Reed Saxon

A note informs prospective buyers that the Times has temporarily “sold out.” Indeed.

By T.L. Caswell

(Page 3)

Publisher Hartenstein stands by the special section and sees nothing wrong in what the newspaper did. Business, it seems, is business. And apparently the Los Angeles Times is now primarily about business rather than journalism, at least in the mind of Eddy Hartenstein, a former head of satellite television provider DirecTV who became the leader of the newspaper in 2008. Hartenstein, it should be noted, never has written a news article or copy-edited one on deadline, but he’s a whiz of a businessman.

I can almost hear a few readers of this article telling me to lighten the hell up and not take this advertising joke so damned seriously. My reply is, thanks but no thanks: It’s not something to be light about, and it is damned serious because the issue lies at the core of proper journalism, a pillar of American society. If it’s a joke it’s not a good one in context.

Stuff like what was in the special section is worth a laugh in articles or video clips from the satirical website The Onion (as I write this The Onion’s cover contains a “news” article headed “Restoration of ‘Star Spangled Banner’ Uncovers Horrifying New Verses”). Ditto for Andy Borowitz’s fake news that appears under that prominent label on Truthdig. But fake news doesn’t make me smile when I see it in the pages of the L.A. Times, nor would I chuckle if I saw it in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post.

Some folks higher in the social food chain than I am are similarly upset by the fabricated section. The next day, July 2, the LAT business section published a short article headlined “Supervisors protest Times ad sections; Lawmakers say promotions that resemble news pages harm credibility.” We live in strange days when a county governing board has to lecture a newspaper on journalistic ethics!


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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Thursday called on the Los Angeles Times to stop selling advertising sections designed to resemble news sections, saying that the ads hurt the paper’s credibility.

The supervisors sent a letter to Sam Zell, chairman of the Tribune Co., which owns The Times. The letter came the same day the paper published a four-page ad for Universal Studios that wrapped around LATExtra, the newspaper’s breaking news section. …

… Los Angeles Times Publisher Eddy Hartenstein stood by the advertising supplement, saying such ads provide the revenues to help fund the paper’s global reporting efforts.

“The Universal Studios Hollywood ad wrapping Thursday’s LATExtra section met our advertising guidelines, including a large, red ‘advertisement’ notification on top of the page,” he said. “Our readers understand the ad-supported economic model of our business, which allows us to provide the outstanding journalism they rely upon 24/7.”

Actually, the word advertisement was not exactly “on top of the page” on the section cover; it was three inches from the top edge of the page and under three lines of type and a Benday rule. And a single word one-eighth of an inch high surely does not qualify as “large” when it is dwarfed by ginormous type and photos.

At least a few Times readers also were displeased. An LAT blog named Readers’ Representative Journal: A Conversation on Newsroom Ethics and Standards quoted some of them July 2.

… “I was frightened as I started to read about Universal Studios. When I realized it was a hoax, I was furious. How could you be so irresponsible?” said Joan Richmond of Claremont.

“Your advertisement wrap on the Thursday LATExtra section was irresponsible. Trying to make an ad, especially one that discusses devastation, look like real news is horrible,” wrote Sam Giamendi of Los Angeles.

“The clever advertising hoax played with the trust your readers have developed over the years. Please don’t toy with that trust again. What reader wants to be made to feel like a nincompoop because he or she believed what was on the front page of the L.A. Times?” asked Janet Weaver of Huntington Beach.

“Next time put the red ‘Advertisement’ notice at the top of the page in letters that can’t be missed, and do it on all the inside pages as well. What a lousy joke,” said Stan Greenfield of Woodland Hills.

(By clicking on the hyperlink atop the copy block immediately above, you can see the top parts of the fake section and the real section. The image does not contain the part showing the previously mentioned destruction near a Universal gate, or the second photo, which depicted two people facing an area littered with destroyed and smoking automobiles.)

The Wrap website observed July 1 that this is not the first time the LAT has caused a dust-up over advertising.

In March, the Times sold its front page to Disney for $700,000 to promote Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” with Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter covering the front page stories. …

… In April 2009, the paper stirred controversy by running an ad on its front news page for NBC’s “Southland.” At the time, critics inside the paper and out accused the Times of selling its editorial integrity for an ad, because the ad appeared at a casual glance to be an article.

Dozens of editorial staffers protested, and it ultimately led to the exit of executive editor John Arthur [in protest against the ads]. (Arthur was also critical of an ad for “The Soloist” that was published under the paper’s banner.) …

… Two months after the “Southland” incident, HBO bought a front-page wraparound ad for its “True Blood” series. …

In each case, the studios said the Times had initiated the ad packages.

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By faith, July 7, 2010 at 10:10 am Link to this comment

I am surprised Mr. Caswell, that you hung on to your respect for the LAT for so
long.  I stopped my subscription when the LAT powers that be fired Robert Scheer
for his opinion columns opposing the Iraq war.  Actually, I know several readers
that did so beside myself.

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By garth, July 7, 2010 at 8:34 am Link to this comment

This article is not unexpected.  I heard stories about the layoffs at the LA Times a few years ago.  I think the capitalists (Capitalists, by the way, are the ones who believe that someone somewhere has a few bucks that they can steall.) who were involved in the takeover of the Chicago tribune were also there when the LA Times needed an infusion of cash. Cuts and layoffs must follow.

The Boston Globe recently went through a contract dispute with its owner, the NY Times.  The unions gave up a lot.  The NY Times awarded its key personnel bonuses.  The Sunday Times hereabouts goes for more than 5 bucks.  Where do they get off?

The Boston Globe, of which I am a Sunday subscriber, has continued its march to print all the news that is already known or unimportant. Fluff. And they they have no continuation of coverage.  All that is news happens only once. Read ‘em and weep!

The Globe would be better off in saving money if they were to re-issue old editions with a new date, a sort of palimpsest of the dateline.  Their news makes that much difference.

They are trying to get people to lament about the lost art of journalism, the lost pleasure of reading a newspaper the first thing in the morning, the funnies, the favorite columnist, etc.  It ain’t going nowhere.

If you want to get a grasp on what’s going on, use your noodle.  Read, “War in Cliche”, by Martin Amis.  His writings with give a good perspective among many other things.  Keep a dictionary handy.

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Go Right Young Man's avatar

By Go Right Young Man, July 7, 2010 at 5:15 am Link to this comment

Not to worry Mr. Caswell.  The Community Organizer come junior Senator come U.S. President will, in the name of “social justice” save the day.  The U.S. government will gladly take control of the newspaper industry.

The integrity of the news industry will be repaired under the warm and steady guidance of the White House and the FCC.

Feel all better now?

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By iain, July 6, 2010 at 6:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

So you’re like the guy “who truly loves his wife and truly loves his girlfriend too. (That image will probably cost me any wives, girlfriends and champions of holy wedlock who are reading this”. Apart from the fact that you’ve just alienated any LGBT readers (interesting how the literate UK press refers to ‘partners’ and doesn’t bother getting into gender), it is worth pointing out that you assume a lot of your readers, most of whom likely wish you’d just stop congratulating yourself on how seriously your imagined readers are taking you and Get. To. Your. Point. But no, on you go, rhetorical flourishes and college-magazine standard emphases aloft. I suggest you take the story very seriously, and yourself very much less so.

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By Anita Busch, July 6, 2010 at 1:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’ve seen worse ethical breaches than this at the L.A. Times.

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By Edwin J. Perkins, July 6, 2010 at 1:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I still subscribe to the LA Times, but hold my nose when I read it. As a welcome supplement, mainly for sports and business, I also get USA Today delivered in the morning along with the Times down here near Laguna Beach.  I wish the Times would become affiliated with USC or UCLA and then be operated as a non-profit.  That is the only chance for its revival in my view

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By garth, July 6, 2010 at 11:17 am Link to this comment

When I looked at the front page, so to speak, of Truthdig, I wondered: Is all okay except for the endless drone of useless nostalgia about the American Press?

Is Obama still President? 

Obama is such a fertile target for the honest onlooker.

For example,
I caught the tail-end of Maureen Dowd’s interview on ABC’s GMA last week.  She said, Obama is thin skinned.  He doesn’t have the advantage of previous Presidents of recent memory like JFK and George W. who were brought up in patrician families with the spirit of confidence.  In short, Obama doesn’t have the ability to shrug off the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune.

Maureen finished by saying that Obama is thin-skinned and has adapted shields.

I thought that was his strong point—his skin.  He is, after all, the first black President.  Imagine Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton whining about being thin-skinned?

Obama’s inadequacy comes through quite clearly when one compares him, his deeds and his speeches with almost any black leader in the US.

Take, for example, the canard that he is smart. He doesn’t seem al that smart to me.  He might have been able to pass certain tests that got him this far, but he is not smart.  He is above average, maybe. 

Witness his inability to handle George Stephanopolous in their give and take on ABC’s “This Week” a few months ago.

Compare speeches.  Everyone says that Obama is a great speaker. 

Compare Obama’s, “We are not Red States or Blue States.  We are the United States” with Rodney King’s lament, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

Now, look at Al Sharpton’s inspirational “40 acres and a mule” speech.  They didn’t want to let Sharpton speak.

He said, in effect, Fool me once shame on you.  Fool me twice, Never!

In summary, Obama’s like the guy you knew in high school.

And doesn’t that piss you off to no end?

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By Old Man Turtle, July 6, 2010 at 10:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

So the “Fourth Estate” turns-out to be just one more fifth-column carrier of “the industrial disease, and another institutional icon at-last reveals its feet of clay blatantly enough that even the sincerest of true believers can no longer escape having to admit what’s been obvious to many for a long time already.  No “news” there.  No doubt legions of faithful Catholics can sympathize with Mr. Caswell, along with maybe hundreds of millions of Americans faced with the in-your-face corruption and malevolence of corporate “governance.”

Here in what Derrick Jensen aptly calls the “ENDGAME” of civilization, anybody with any sense knows things will certainly get a whole helluva lot worse before they can start to get even a little bit better.  If we’re lucky it’ll happen soon and fast.  If we’re not, this is going to be a real bitter lesson in WHY it’s not nice to fuck-with Mother Nature.  Either way, can you sing “Bye-bye, Miss American Pie.”?

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By Eric L. Prentis, July 6, 2010 at 10:07 am Link to this comment

Advertising, advertising that looks like news or propaganda are what the MSM delivers today because it is owned by the privileged, powerful and wealthy corporate elites whose goals are to manipulate the American people, sell stuff and to protect their positions in society. Solution: first and foremost, STOP WATCHING TV, next, stop listening to the radio and, finally, stop reading newspapers or at least don’t take them seriously.

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By Anarcissie, July 6, 2010 at 9:56 am Link to this comment

In many ways I, too, prefer the technology of ink on paper to that of computers and monitors.  However, I think we should not confuse technology with truth, which seems to be part of the moaning and groaning about the death of the daily newspaper.  Newspapers and books have been full of lies and errors since they were invented; as with stuff written on the Internet, you have to approach any story with caution and look for verification.  (“Believe nothing until it has been officially denied three times” is one of the better rules of thumb.)  Apparent accuracy and gravitas were part of the print act during a certain period, but the utility of that act has passed.  The Net is often better at exposing bogus tales than the press.  Had hoaxes like the one described been attempted on the L.A. Times’s web site, comparison with other sites would have revealed the fiction immediately.

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By SoTexGuy, July 6, 2010 at 7:25 am Link to this comment

The first few paragraphs of this article hooked me.. I am in agreement with the author about the unique pleasure of browsing the morning paper and am also angered by the overt and insidious ways my newspaper has morphed into a tabloid for hucksters and more.

Aside from excessive advertising one thing that has also crept into print media is excessive wordiness, cut and paste text, needless explanation and endless repetition.. seemingly simply for the sake of filling space and columns.. THIS article itself could be an example of that.

How clever of the writer to so subtly demonstrate that evil!


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