Bloomberg News

Otis Chandler, Publisher of Los Angeles Times, Dies

February 27, 2006

Otis Chandler, who built the Los Angeles Times from a family newspaper into a national media outlet, died today. He was 78.

Chandler had been suffering from Lewy body disease, according to his family. The degenerative brain disorder combines some of the incapacitating symptoms of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

As publisher of the Los Angeles Times from 1960 to 1980, Chandler changed it from a provincial newspaper into one of national influence, counted among the ranks of the New York Times and Washington Post. His great-grandfather had purchased part ownership of the year-old paper in 1882, turning it profitable and into a forum for his pro-business and pro-Republican views.

``He is one of the great American journalists and publishers, in the tradition of the Sulzbergers for the New York Times,'' said William Serrin, a professor of journalism history at New York University. ``Before Chandler took over, it was kind of a small, muckraking paper, but he made it what it is today: an important, well-written newspaper that has national and international coverage to rival anyone's.''

Born in 1927, Chandler was groomed to take over the family business from a young age, working as a printer's apprentice, in the advertising department of the Times and as a reporter.

Aggressive, New Voice

He succeeded his father at age 33, and quickly worked to change the newspaper's conservative leanings. In 1961, he published a series of articles about the John Birch Society, angering many of the Times' conservative followers.

``That John Birch series put the Times in the national spotlight and solidified Chandler as an aggressive, new voice for the paper,'' Serrin said in an interview.

In an effort to expand the Times' reach, Chandler hired more reporters and editors, raised salaries and opened new bureaus overseas. The Times won seven Pulitzer Prizes under Chandler.

``The Times was on a list of some of the worst papers in nation when Otis took over,'' Washington Post Co. Chief Executive Officer Don Graham said in an interview. ``He saw how strong an opportunity that paper was in that region and he is personally responsible its excellence.''

``My mother, Katharine Graham, told me how much he helped her to improve the Post and what a singular American journalist he was,'' Graham said.

Rockefellers and Sulzbergers

Chandler asserted his influence on the Times well after he stepped down as chairman in 1985. In 2000, Chandler criticized the Times' arrangement to share revenue from a special Sunday section with the Staples Center, a downtown Los Angeles arena.

``Under his leadership, the Los Angeles Times grew in journalistic scope and reputation,'' Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the New York Times, said in a statement.

Later that year, Chandler -- who remained a major shareholder in the Times Mirror Co. -- was said to have encouraged the sale of the newspaper to Tribune Co., publisher of the Chicago Tribune, for $8 billion after criticizing Times Mirror management.

``No single family dominates any major region of the country as the Chandlers have dominated California,'' wrote David Halberstam, in ``The Powers That Be,'' his book on media history. ``It would take in the East a combination of the Rockefellers and the Sulzbergers to match their power and influence.''

Chandler was known as a devoted athlete, taking lengthy bike rides well into his 70s and was often seen surfing weightlifting. He developed a reputation as a skilled hunter, once slaying an elephant in Mozambique, and he exhibited his trophies in his home. In 1990, Chandler was trampled by a musk ox in Canada and nearly lost the use of his right arm.

He began showing signs of dementia as long as a year before his diagnosis with Lewy body disease seven months ago. As many as 800,000 Americans suffer from the disorder, according to the Lewy Body Dementia Association.

Chandler is survived by his wife, Bettina, and five children, according to the Los Angeles Times.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Bensinger in New York at gbensinger1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Glenn Holdcraft at gholdcraft@bloomberg.net.


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