By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Although the Journal’s battle with the Times may seem irrelevant in L.A., these papers‘ imperial dreams pose a problem for dailies around the country. Even successful ones such as the Los Angeles Times run the risk of becoming minor league, unable to compete with the big boys when it comes to covering two fronts at once -- the globalized world of news and the ever-expanding universe of consumer consumption. You saw the first evidence of this last week when The New York Times nabbed a record seven Pulitzers (six for 911 coverage) and three other big papers won nearly all the others. Small papers were completely shut out. And why did the N.Y. Times win the 911 sweepstakes? Because it could spend more money on its coverage than anyone else. As the Boston Phoenix’s Dan Kennedy and the Washington Post‘s Howard Kurtz both noted, newspapering is haunted by the specter of Steinbrennerism. As in pro baseball, only the rich win.
Of course, as the Dodgers constantly demonstrate, money isn’t everything. Vision counts. Back in the ‘80s and ’90s, the L.A. Times scuppered Otis Chandler‘s great dream of being a national paper and settled for being better than the Orange County Register and Daily News. (One of this year’s Pulitzer winners, Barry Bearak of the empurpled prose, had abandoned the then-floundering Times Mirror ship for The New York Times). Although current L.A. Times editor John Carroll has begun turning this around -- even stealing editorial stars from the N.Y. Times -- the paper has a long, difficult road if it‘s not to eventually become an also-ran in what economist Robert H. Frank calls “the winner-take-all society.”
It’s not fanciful to imagine a future in which our newspapers become another staple of our increasingly two-tier society in which the favored send their kids to private schools instead of lousy public ones, buy organic veggies at Bristol Farms instead of Albertson‘s plastic ones, fly business instead of enduring the horrors of coach. In such a scenario, elite Americans will read about the world in The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times (depending on their political slant) while the vast majority will read lesser local papers and be excluded from The Conversation.
Then again, being cut out may be a blessing. On last week’s episode of CNBC‘s Wall Street Journal: Editorial Board, Paul Gigot and four board members pondered the 50th anniversary of rock & roll. Sounding like space aliens who’d once caught a few nights of Wolfman Jack on intergalactic radio, the group agreed that rock wasn‘t an altogether bad thing. My favorite Martian was Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Henninger, who looks uncannily like Christian Bale’s American Psycho after he‘s settled into a pompously conformist middle age. When the wooden Henninger solemnly announced that the rock album he’d played most recently was the Rolling Stones‘ first album, his words did a windshield-wiper effect on my ribs. I laughed even harder when he went on to explain that, like everything else in the world, rock music had been damaged by (you guessed it) the ’60s.
Despite the Kama Sutra thrust of its recent make-over, the Journal hasn‘t really changed. When it comes to popular culture, its editors prefer the missionary position.