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
Just look at the heroic way he’s described by his own paper today. Not even William Goldman, the screenwriter of AllthePresident’sMenfrom the Woodstein book, could have scripted such detail and dialogue better.
“As recently as two weeks ago, Baquet threatened to leave the newspaper, according to several [Los Angeles]Timesstaffers who spoke to him. He told some of his top editors that a meeting with Tribune managers before the Fourth of July weekend had left him wondering whether he would have the freedom, and funds, needed to maintain the paper’s worldwide news operation. Baquet eventually got the reassurances he wanted from the Times’ corporate parent, said some of his close associates. ‘Have I had disagreements with Chicago and others about the paper? Sure,’ Baquet said in his office Wednesday. ‘But obviously I feel like I am in sync enough with the people who own the joint’ to have accepted the editor’s job.” First word of the transition came from Kevin Roderick’s widely read LAObserved.com Web site, which is the town crier for local media. Shocked and baffled LATstaffers spent the next hour messaging and phoning and huddling in bathrooms and corners. Finally, at 11:45 a.m., the worker bees were told at a gathering in the newsroom.
(The news will not be covered by veteran LATmedia critic David Shaw, who has inoperable brain cancer. According to friends, the Pulitzer-winning columnist tragically suffered a brain seizure on July 5 and remains hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai in a coma.) The announcement left more questions than it answered among LATnewspeople, especially about the degree to which Carroll jumped or was pushed by Chicago.
While Carroll even now has skirted that issue, saying he started thinking about his end game a year ago, Tribune Co. is known to cleverly put into contractual language what departing execs can, and can’t, spill. Clearly, Carroll was dejected over deeper budget cuts in the offing by the Tribune Co., as well as fed up with the uninterrupted nagging about finances and circulation. How demoralizing for him when, after winning five Pulitzers in 2004, the second-most ever for a single paper in one year, he saw the LATbear the overwhelming brunt of Tribune Co.-mandated layoffs just two months later. On the other hand, the Chicago bosses had reason to keep riding Carroll after circulation posted big drops for the past two reporting periods — down 5.5 percent for daily and 6.3 percent for Sunday in September 2004, and then down 6.4 percent for daily and 7.9 percent for Sunday in March 2005. In the end, getting readers mattered more than getting Pulitzers.
Carroll’s descent and Baquet’s ascent was helped along by the new publisher, according to insiders. “He has a very heavy hand on the tiller,” one source told L.A.Weekly.“It’s widely known that he lit a fire under editorial recently by saying, ‘You guys have to think about your role in circulation.
We are selling a product, and the two are connected. We’ve got to make this a product that people want to buy.’ ” L.A.Weeklyhas learned that mandate triggered a recent retreat of senior editors to ponder just that topic.
But Johnson is no cereal killer, the nickname given Mark Willes, who, in the late ’90s, went from running the breakfast-food business to running the LATinto the ground prestige-wise. According to media people who’ve heard Johnson’s ideas about the paper, he has the usual bean-counting mentality of his ilk but also a solid grasp on what a newspaper should be. Believing that the LAThas to have a broad appeal beyond just news coverage, Johnson is a vocal advocate of the paper’s new and expanded features sections, which he sees as critical to the survival of the paper, as well as its Web site, where it was his idea to liberate Calendar from its unsuccessful stint as a subscription-only service.
In the immediate aftermath of Carroll’s exit, bets are being placed on how long Michael Kinsley, who’s been the editorial and opinion editor for 15 months, will last now that he reports directly to Johnson, and not to the LAT’seditor.
Yes, that very big news was snuck in under the radar “as part of the leadership transition,” the paper explained. Kinsley’s tenure so far has been marked primarily by self-serving publicity and controversy, all designed to focus attention on himself instead of on issues. Another problem, aside from the huge ones that he commutes from Seattle, or that he disassembled his sections into a snarkfest of lefty cronies and wacko neo-cons, is that his politics are out of step — not just with conservative subscribers who left the paper in droves after that Schwarzenegger sexual-harassment probe was published on the eve of the gubernatorial recall election, but also with progressive subscribers sickened by Kinsley’s old-school liberal penchant for placing witty banter ahead of serious argument.