If former Los Angeles Times Magazine publisher Steven Gellman's new lawsuit against the paper has even a few teeth, which it certainly seems to, L.A.'s rag of record is so cornered right now.
Gellman is calling out the paper's senior VP of advertising and targeted media, Scott Pompe, and parent company Tribune Co. (a real trailblazer for marketing strategy in the digital age, haven't you heard) for allegedly firing and defaming him in spring 2010.
Here's the slimy-ass reason Geilman says he was shown the door:
Because he objected to their "decision to save money by stopping distribution of its Sunday magazine to low-income and minority neighborhoods, while charging them the same price as 'the white affluent subscribers'" [Courthouse News Service].
Wow. Kind of hard to take a bleeding-heart feature on Compton's cricket team seriously, when you know the entirety of Compton's not even considered worthy of reading it. Then again, we should have seen the disconnect from a mile away:
"It's Sunday in Compton, one of the world's most notorious and violent drive-by capitals. Sergio Pinales pulls on a white vest, leaving starkly bare the tattoos that indelibly coat swaths of his skin. He positions a baseball hat atop his shaved head, grabs the leash of his pit bull and leaves his house, slamming the front door behind him."
Oh, but the angst! The urban grit! (Here's our version, if you care.)
Still, the scariest part of Gellman's revelation is not that Sunday newspaper pullouts are now exclusively targeted at Beverly Hills empty-nesters and the coastal coffee-shop set. If the magazine's froufy audience takes time out of life to read crap like "Uncommon Scents: Orange Zest" and "Trend Report: Rock Style," they probably deserve it. No -- the real slap in the face is the naked audacity of Tribune Co. (if Gellman's allegations are true) in thinking it can continue to charge the rest of its subscribers the same amount, without so much as the choice to read said crap.
The Times' social-media handle on Twitter is getting hailstormed by angry readers today, irate after reading the lawsuit. To the first such complaint, it answered: "We deliver the LAT Magazine to any subscriber who requests it. If you email me info at email@example.com I'll sign you up." Now it's having to deal with a barrage of requests (don't laugh), many probably from ideologues who don't care as much about the mag as their right to it.
Here are some testimonies from commenters on the KPCC piece, confirming in practice what Gellman is alleging in court:
Vickie says, "I too thought the magazine had been discontinued because I didn't receive it anymore.It's not fair that I pay the full price for my subscription and don't get what more affluent areas receive for the same price. I live in Lakewood."
Chris says, "I realized that I wasn't getting the magazine a couple of years ago (I live in Highland Park) and made a complaint. Since then they have intermittently delivered the magazine to me -- for a while by mail (not with the paper), but more recently with the paper. I don't even care for the magazine (it's mostly fashion spreads) but I wanted it based on principle. Infuriating!"
Whotch says, "My family in Whittier have been Times subscribers for many, many years, and when the magazine stopped coming, we thought it had been discontinued. Yes, it was elitist in its focus--but it was part of LA Times content. Subscribers should be allowed to read, and comment on, all of the Times' content."
Jacquie says, "I can't believe it! I thought the LA Magazine was long dead. I used to be an avid reader, especially when Dan Neil wrote it in. I have been a LA Times subscriber for over 10 years. I am quite disgusted to hear that I'm not receiving it because I live in a "poor" area like Monrovia."
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Yup. Sounds about right. The lawsuit claims that the Times "made the decision to eliminate distribution of the magazine in the Sunday paper to lower-income, and demographically minority neighborhoods, such as Highland Park and Compton."
But when Gellman complained to direct manager John T. O'Loughlin, he says his higher-up "dismissed the complaints, telling him that they had a 'story' for this."
Well, what goes around, comes around, o Timesfather -- now you're the story.