Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Does The LA Times Have A... Death Wish?

At one precise moment, the LA Times' current problems went from bad - to critical; a damning series of stories that came under so much criticism from so many sources, it permanently alienated a large segment of the community from the newspaper.

Not only did thousands of readers immediately cancel their subscriptions, but ever since then, circulation has plummeted at the LA Times faster than at any other major paper in the country. It is the single blow from which the LAT may never recover.

And that damaging blow was, of course, the last minute 'groping' stories' against Schwarzenegger before the recall election. There was a tidal wave of complaints at how these stories were written and edited to make them anything but impartial. There was also the careful staging of the stories to do the most damage and the blatant placement of any good news for the Schwarzenegger right next to a groping story. This incident lost the LA Times more credibility than any other event of my lifetime; no one on the street cared about Staples - a hell of a lot of people cared about the blatant bias the Times showed during that recall election. And then when it was discovered that the Times coverage was partially done in tandem with the Gray Davis campaign (see link at very bottom) ... that was the final breaking point for many former Times readers.

I should add that my complaints against the Times are its lack of local coverage and its inability to get its fact right. Bias in the newspapers is there, but that is to be expected and I rarely get into that. But this time was different; every single aspect of how the Times covered the groping stories - and the recall - was so... offensive... to anyone who cares about journalistic integrity that for weeks I stopped returning calls from LA Times reporters; I simply could not trust myself to not vent upon innocent victims. Ironically, I later discovered that many reporters at the Times felt the same way I did about how the Times handled that story.

This was also the time the on-line community really started to attack the Times; both because of the way the LAT handled the groping story and how the LA Times kept running their own polls and stories on how Grey Davis was close to keeping his job even though no other polls had anything near the figures that the Times poll managed to concoct.

Luckily, never before - or since - has the Times so debased its standards. So let's move on from the past.

Let the new era begin because as of today - glasnost has begun! The LA Times has finally announced a new web/interactive media Tsar to reach out to the on-line community. And they have brought in a person they claim is uniquely qualified to accomplish both tasks. From the LA Times memo on LAOBSERVED:

... he will oversee editorial content on,, and new interactive initiatives. This new position is designed to better align the newsroom and the web site. (He) will work closely with the newsroom to create new stories and features for the web, and to encourage all departments to regard and our other interactive products as vital, though distinctly different, parts of The Times

So... did they hire a long time expert in the on-line field? Someone who understands interactive media enough to prevent another wikitorial fiasco?


Do they hire a young kid with cutting edge experience in this - or any - technology?


How about a blogger with journalistic experience?


Someone who understands on-line interactivity of any kind?


Someone... anyone.... with any kind of track record that will in any way engender trust from those who mistrust Times?

Hell, no.

Instead, the LA Times promotes a very senior editor with zero web experience and zero technological background; an aging baby boomer with no known connections with the on-line world of any kind.

Then it gets better.

He is also the sole credited person who edited those exact stories that damaged the LA Times' reputation and credibility with more readers more than anything else the Times has ever published.

And then Dean Baquet proudly proclaims these are the exact reasons why he hired him for the job. See below from LA OBSERVED:

Joel Sappell has been the deputy editor in Business for entertainment coverage and the editor who oversaw the groping investigation of Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003. He will now become an assistant managing editor, raising the website's head to masthead status, as well as get the title of Executive Editor, Interactive.

Sappell, 52, has little experience with online news, but Editor Dean Baquet says in a statement that "It has become clear over time that interactive is a different animal, but one that should be guided by the same bedrock principles as the newsroom. It is a testament to the importance of the Web that we are placing one of our most creative and aggressive editors in charge of the editorial part of the site."

Lastly, an overview on the Arnold groping coverage:

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