Saturday, November 11, 2006

What a mogul thinks
about the L.A. Times

One of the most captivating subtexts in the current turmoil surrounding our industry is the apparent interest selected billionaires are expressing in buying marquee newspapers.

This is new.

David Geffen buying the L.A. Times would be substantially different than Brian Tierney heading up a consortium to purchase the Inquirer. Tierney's bunch borrowed a lot of money to buy the Inky, and as Dean Singleton has pointed out. it's not much more fun to work for your bankers than for Wall Street. If he wanted to (he wouldn't) Geffen could simply write a check; and no matter how he structured the deal, he wouldn't have the cash flow pressure that operating on borrowed money brings.

I won't presume to know what Jack Welch thinks about when he ponders buying the Boston Globe, except this: he lives in Boston and obviously loves the place. Maybe that adds motivation.

Geffen thinks local ownership of the Times would be good for L.A., too, and I suspect he also figures he already knows a thing or two about building audiences. A writer at LAWeekly last week described what he said Geffen was telling friends:

Now I'm told Geffen is starting to plan what he intends to do to the paper once it's his ... He plans to staff – more like stuff – the paper with name writers and journalism stars. (Of course, he'll raid The New York Times, where Frank Rich and his wife, Alex Witchel, are his good friends and occasional overnight guests. So are Nora Ephron and Nick Pileggi. So are a lot of literati.) He'll demand quality. He'll ratchet up the Web site (even though he hates how prohibitively expensive it is to do that). He'll figure out a way to bring in Latinos as readers ... Geffen hates how boring, badly written, inconsequential and pedestrian the L.A. Times’ editorial and opinion section is. He thinks nobody reads it. He knows nobody talks about it. Most of all, he wants his newspaper to be talked about.

Now, we'd all like a plan that started with hiring more staff. But looking beyond that, think about where this seems to be headed. Brand-name, high-profile buzz. Online extension. Quality. Reaching new demographics.

Not boring.

People at the L.A. Times already know doing those things would help, of course. So do we. But far too often, we let notions about things we "have to do" get in the way of doing things we really believe could move the needle on building audiences and creating communities.

Since you can't just layer on expenses to hire Frank Rich and Nora Ephron, you'd have to stop doing something else. And wouldn't you be better off creating our own stars, anyhow, which might involve little more than giving some of your best people more room to maneuver? Do you have somebody in the paper regularly right now who does this? Show us where to find the best things she's done lately; point us to his column.

Where's the very best stuff at McClatchy? Who has something we just can't live without?
–Howard Weaver

1 comment:

  1. I'll give a shout out to my friends at The (Tacoma) News Tribune. The Seahawks Insider blog gets fans talking and has become a must-read throughout the week and on game day. This kind of analysis is what fans want, and it's what we need to provide.