Posted by: Jon Fine on September 29, 2006
It’s pretty to think of a Los Angeles Times liberated from Tribune and in the hands of kindlier local ownership. But there are numerous real-world factors that argue against this ever happening. A few of them are outlined in my latest BusinessWeek column here.
Some more thoughts:
1. There is ample documentation, some of which you can find in this book and some more in this book, that strongly indicate that no journalist should aspire to being owned by David Geffen. (As noted elsewhere on this blog, Jack Shafer very enjoyably pointed out the folly of hanging hopes on the Times’ other billionaires in waiting, Eli Broad and Ron Burkle.)
2. It’s untenable long-term to expect a paper as complicated as the Los Angeles Times to produce the 20% profit margins that Tribune’s come to expect. But it’s also untenable long-term to expect some kind soul or foundation to run a for-profit newspaper as a break-even or marginally-profitable business. (The sheer size of the Times and its pricetag makes a foundation ownership approach impossible, though that’s what’s in place at Harper’s magazine and the St. Petersburg Times.) Mass-media properties have to stand up on their own, and not lean unduly on someone’s largesse, if they aspire to, uh, sticking around.
3. Most depressingly: No party in this fight has put forth any kind of ideas regarding what a Los Angeles Times substantially reinvented for the 21st Century might look like. (I suspect top editors and business-side people at the paper itself—as opposed to within Tribune Tower—would argue that they can’t owing to constant struggles to make numbers and constant pressures to draw up contingency plans if they don’t. Under current circumstances it’s hard to argue with them.)
But someone, somewhere will have to figure out how to reinvent it. How would you?