Friday, January 26, 2007

LA Times

I'm not sure there's a lot to be added to what Los Angeles Times Editor James O'Shea told his staff this week that the Times pretty much will focus on the Web for breaking news and seriously reposition the way it thinks about the paper as an analysis and explanatory vehicle (Accompanying story.)

It's about as blunt as it gets (subtext -- lead, follow or get the hell out of here). A few excerpts follow. The industry clearly is beginning to panic; its demands for change will soon be felt in the academy (far beyond whatever we've done so far, which pretty much amounts to dipping our toes in the water in most places).

The Spring Street group's conclusion about our progress online is brutally honest and it doesn't paint a pretty picture. We're woefully behind.

I know that our natural inclination as journalists is to ask why. Who is responsible, whose fault is it, who is to blame?

And the answer to that question is: It's everyone's fault.

Every editor, reporter, photographer, artist, everyone who works here everyone who is in this room and everyone who is not here.

Everyone who has ever come up with an excuse as to why we can't do something new and different, it is your fault just as much as anyone's. ...

As an organization and a business, we are in a fight to recoup threatened revenue that finances our newsgathering.

Ad revenue across the board is under challenge but let me share just one category to demonstrate how fast our world is changing and the dimensions of this changing financial dynamic.

In 2004, automotive print advertising at the Los Angeles Times totaled $102 million. And what will it be this year? $55 million.

That is $47 million gone, unavailable to pay salaries and expenses. We made some of that up online. Online auto classified in 2004 totaled only $7 million. But by 2007, it climbed to $31 million, or $24 million up. But notice what is happening here – we lost $47 million in print and only recovered $24 million online. For every $2 we lost, we are recouping only about $1.

The story is similar in other areas. Some categories, such as real estate, are doing well but it is just a matter of time that it too will go south unless we can build online readership faster while keeping print readers. We have to get better.

At this rate, those double-digit profit margins everyone cites will be single digits and then be gone. ...

By virtue of its lightning speed and undisciplined nature, the Internet poses unique challenges to the way we practice journalism. Change is coming; it has to.

One of Russ's first assignments is to set up a training regimen for everyone in the newsroom to develop an expertise on the Internet and become savvy multi-media journalists.

A whole new world in out there -- video, photo galleries, chat rooms, landing pages. And to disprove the adage that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, I am going to be one of his first students. This training is mandatory for everyone.

Currently we have a newspaper staff and an staff. No more. From now on, there are no two staffs, there is just one. And we will function as one. One of Russ's first jobs will be to help set up that newsroom. Leo Wolinsky is already working on a plan and details will be coming soon. will become our primary vehicle for breaking news 24 hours a day. Reporters now enter the newsroom and tell editors what kind of a story they will write for the newspaper the next day.

Then -- we tend to think what can we do for the Internet, as if it were some kind of journalistic orphan.

That kind of thinking must change if we want to remain competitive.

We need to enter the newsroom and think about how we are going to break news on the Internet.

And then what we are going to do that will be different for the newspaper, which will become an even stronger vehicle for tightly-written context, analysis, interpretation and expertise. There is no better example of that than this morning front page story by John Horn and Gina Piccalo's piece on the Oscar's, a sohpisticaed analysis of the international forces driving the decisions of the judges. ...

Just as a blog is not a God-given right to inflict ignorance on an unsuspecting public, there's no journalistic birthright for print reporters to write an 80 inch story when 30 inches will do.

The newspaper is the medium in which we must use editing and journalistic discipline to channel that online reservoir and funnel it into a pipeline that leads to our reader's doorsteps.

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