SOCIAL HISTORY: THE LOS ANGELES TIMES – FROM THE CHANDLER FAMILY TO SAM ZELL – THE DECLINE AND FALL OF A GREAT NEWSPAPER IN THE CITY OF THE ANGELS UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF A “FOREIGNER” FROM OBAMA’S CHICAGO…
NORMAN CHANDLER (THE FAMILY THAT FOUNDED THE LOS ANGELES TIMES) ON THE COVER LIFE – WHEN THE LA TIMES WAS A GREAT NEWSPAPER
“For those of you who have not heard, A horrible man named Sam Zell bought the Tribune Co…” Facebook comment by Cubs fan…
Under the direction of Sam Zell, according to Martin Falcon, prominent Pasadena resident and former banking CEO: “the Los Angeles Times has gone from bad to worst. Zell is everything that’s wrong with America. He’s destroyed the Los Angeles Times. Zell has no class. He’s as common as those now considered the cultural icons in Los Angeles. Norman Chandler was distinguished, while Zell is everything that’s wrong with America. A horrible man. Send him back to wherever he’s from… which must be from nowhere…”
Under the direction of Sam Zell, an American neuveau riche entrepreneur, the Los Angeles Times has gone from bad to worst – according to many LA residents who no longer read the once great newspaper. Zell – some consider him the epitome of everything that’s wrong with America, has destroyed the Los Angeles Times to many old families from Pasadena. Zell, from his photo, doesn’t have the style of a Chandler. Many say: “Norman Chandler was distinguished, while Zell is, what the Washington Post, called a common low class rube. That’s America. Thirty years ago, he wouldn’t have been admitted to the California Club or LA Country Club – today, Los Angeles has changed – people today can get in with no background.”
History of the Los Angeles Times.
(Left: Early edition of the LA Times) The paper was first published every week and one half, as an evening paper, bearing the name, Los Angeles Daily Times on December 4, 1881, but soon went bankrupt. The paper’s printer, the Mirror Company, took over the newspaper and installed former Union Army lieutenant colonel Harrison Gray Otis as an editor. Otis made the paper a financial success. In 1884, he bought out the newspaper and printing company to form the Times-Mirror Company.
Rubble of the Times building after the 1910 bombing Historian Kevin Starr lists Otis (with Henry E. Huntington and Moses Sherman) as a businessman “capable of manipulating the entire apparatus of politics and public opinion for his own enrichment.” Otis’s editorial policy was based on civic boosterism, extolling the virtues of Los Angeles and promoting its growth. Towards those ends, the paper supported efforts to expand the city’s water supply by acquiring the watershed of the Owens Valley, an effort fictionalized in the Roman Polanski movie Chinatown which is also covered in California Water Wars.
The efforts of the Times to fight local unions led to the October 1, 1910, bombing of its headquarters, killing twenty-one people. Two union leaders, James and Joseph McNamara, were charged. The American Federation of Labor hired noted trial attorney Clarence Darrow to represent the brothers, who eventually pleaded guilty. Clarence Darrow was later found innocent of giving a $4,000 bribe to a juryman. The paper soon relocated to the Times Building, a Los Angeles landmark.
(Left: Dorothy Buffum Chandler – major leader in the cultural life of Los Angeles – when she died, class died, according to many old time LA families) Upon Otis’s death in 1917, his son-in-law Harry Chandler took control as publisher of the Times. Harry Chandler was succeeded in 1944 by his son, Norman Chandler, who ran the paper during the rapid growth of post-war Los Angeles. Norman’s wife, heiress and fellow Stanford alumnus Dorothy Buffum Chandler, became active in civic affairs and led the effort to build the Los Angeles Music Center, whose main concert hall was named the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in her honor. Family members are buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery near Paramount Studios, , The site also includes a memorial to the Times building bombing victims.
The paper was a founding co-owner of then-CBS turned independent television station KTTV. It became that station’s sole owner in 1951, and remained so until it was sold to Metromedia in 1963.
The fourth generation of family publishers, Otis Chandler, held that position from 1960 to 1980. Otis Chandler sought legitimacy and recognition for his family’s paper, often forgotten in the power centers of the Northeastern United States due to its geographic and cultural distance. He sought to remake the paper in the model of the nation’s most respected newspapers, notably The New York Times and Washington Post. Believing that the newsroom was “the heartbeat of the business”, Otis Chandler increased the size and pay of the reporting staff and expanded its national and international reporting. In 1962, the paper joined with The Washington Post to form the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service to syndicate articles from both papers for other news organizations.
During the 1960s, the paper won four Pulitzer Prizes, more than its previous nine decades combined.
A Pulitzer Prize in 1990 went to the Times’ Jim Murray, considered by many to be one of the greatest sportswriters of the century.
The paper’s early history and subsequent transformation was chronicled in an unauthorized history Thinking Big (1977, ISBN 0399117660), and was one of four organizations profiled by David Halberstam in The Powers That Be (1979, ISBN 0394503813; 2000 reprint ISBN 0252069412). It has also been the whole or partial subject of nearly thirty dissertations in communications or social science in the past four decades.
In the 1990s, all the major writers were retired early and the demise of the paper came when Sam Zell took over. The Los Angeles Timnes, once a great newspaper, is now run by dreadful leadership from Chicago.
On April 2, 2007, the Tribune Company announced its acceptance of Sam Zell’s offer to buy the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and all other company assets. Zell announced plans to take the company private and sell off the Chicago Cubs baseball club. He put up for sale the company’s 25 percent interest in Comcast SportsNet Chicago. Up until the time of shareholder approval, Los Angeles billionaires Ron Burkle and Eli Broad had the right to submit a higher bid, in which case Zell would have received a $25 million buyout fee.
The paper reported on July 3, 2008, that it planned to cut 250 jobs by Labor day and reduce the number of published pages by 15%. That included about 17% of its news staff, as part of the newly private media company’s mandate to slash costs. Since Zell bought Tribune, the paper has been struggling to deal with a heavy load of debt. “We’ve tried to get ahead of all the change that’s occurring in the business and get to an organization and size that will be sustainable,” Hiller said.
The changes and cuts have been controversial, prompting criticism from such disparate sources as a Jewish Journal commentary, an anonymously written employee blog called Tell Zell and a satirical Web site, Not the L.A. Times.
In January 2009, the Times increased its single copy price from 50 to 75 cents and the elimination of the separate California/Metro section, folding it into the front section of the newspaper. The Times also announced seventy job cuts in news and editorial, or a 10% cut in payroll. The paper now begs for subscriptions. Advertising revenues have fallen. The great writers are gone.
As for Los Angeles – read this:
The Decline Of Los Angeles
Joel Kotkin, 02.24.09, 12:00 AM ET
Next week, Antonio Villaraigosa will be overwhelmingly re-elected mayor of Los Angeles. Do not, however, take the size of his margin–he faces no significant opposition–as evidence that all is well in the city of angels.
(Left) Antonio Villaraigosa – one of the worst mayor’s in America. A total failure. He’s stacked Los Angeles with his third rate cronies. The “mayor” failed the California Bar Exam four times and is not licensed to practice law. Like most American political hacks, he’s been involved in many scandals. He’s the choice of LA leaders such as Eli Broad (the former track home builder).
Whatever His Honor says to the media, the sad reality remains that Los Angeles has fallen into a serious secular decline. This constitutes one of the most rapid–and largely unnecessary–municipal reversals in fortune in American urban history.
A century ago, when L.A. had barely 100,000 souls, railway magnate Henry Huntington predicted that the place was “destined to become the most important city in this country, if not the world.” Long run by ambitious, often ruthless boosters, the city lured waves of newcomers with its pro-business climate, perfect weather and spectacular topography.
These newcomers–first largely from the Midwest and East Coast, and then from around the world–energized L.A. into an unmatched hub of innovation and economic diversity.
As a result, L.A. surged toward civic greatness. By the end of the 20th century, it stood not only as the epicenter for the world’s entertainment industry, but also North America’s largest port, garment manufacturer and industrial center. The region also spawned two important presidents–Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan–and nurtured a host of political and social movements spanning the ideological spectrum.
Now L.A. seems to be fading rapidly toward irrelevancy. Its economy has tanked faster than that of the nation, with unemployment now close to 10%. The port appears in decline, the roads in awful shape and the once potent industrial base continues to shrink.
Job growth in the area, notes a forecast by the University of California at Santa Barbara, dropped 0.6% last year and is expected to plunge far more rapidly this year. Roughly one-fifth of the population depends on public assistance or benefits to survive.
Once a primary destination for Americans, L.A.–along with places like Detroit, New York and Chicago–now suffers among the highest rates of out-migration in the country. Particularly hard hit has been its base of middle-class families, which continues to shrink. This is painfully evident in places like the San Fernando Valley, where I live, long a middle-class outpost for L.A., much like Queens and Staten Island are for New York.
In such a context, Villaraigosa’s upcoming coronation seems hard to comprehend. By most accounts, he has been at best a mediocre mayor, with few real accomplishments besides keeping police chief Bill Bratton, a man appointed by his predecessor. So far, Bratton has managed to keep the lid on crime, a testament both to his skills and to the demographic aging of much of the city.
Besides this, virtually every major initiative from Villaraigosa has been a dismal failure; from a poorly executed program to plant more trees to a subsidized drive to refashion downtown Los Angeles into a mini-Manhattan. Instead of reforming a generally miserable business climate, Villaraigosa has fixated on fostering “elegant density” through massive new residential construction. This gambit has failed miserably, with downtown property values plunging at least 35% since their peak. Many “luxury” condominiums there, as well as elsewhere in the city, remain largely unoccupied or have turned into rentals.
More recently the mayor has presided over a widely ridiculed scheme to hand over the solar business in Los Angeles to a city agency, the Department of Water and Power (DWP), whose workers are among the best paid and most coddled of any municipal agency anywhere. Most solar plans by utilities focus more on competitive bidding by outside contractors. Villaraigosa’s plan, which recent estimates suggests will cost L.A. ratepayers upward of $3.6 billion, would grant a powerful, well-heeled union control of the city’s solar program.
This has occurred despite years of overruns on previous DWP “clean energy” projects. Not surprisingly, the plan was widely blasted–by the city’s largest newspaper, the rapidly shrinking Los Angeles Times, the feistier LA Weekly and the last independent voice at City Hall, outgoing City Controller Laura Chick, who proclaimed that the whole scheme “stinks.” Yet despite the criticism, a ballot measure endorsing the plan–opponents have little money to stop it–seems likely to be approved next week.
With his firm grip on political power, Villaraigosa likes to think of himself as a West Coast version of New York’s Michael Bloomberg or Chicago’s Richard Daley. Yet at least they have demonstrated a modicum of seriousness about the job.
In contrast, Villaraigosa, according to a devastating recent report in the LA Weekly, spends remarkably little time–about 11%–actually doing his job. The bulk of his 16-hour or so days are spent politicking, preening for the cameras and in other forms of relentless self-promotion.
So how is this person about to be re-elected with only token opposition? Rick Caruso, the developer of luxury shopping center The Grove and one of L.A.’s last private sector power brokers, ascribes this to a growing sense of powerlessness, even among the city’s most important business leaders.
“People feel it’s kind of hopeless. It’s a dysfunctional city,” Caruso, who once considered a run against Villaraigosa, told me the other day. “They don’t think there’s anything to do.”
Certainly, odds against changing the current political system seem long to an extreme. The once-powerful business community has devolved into a weak plaintive lobby who rarely challenge our homegrown Putin or his allies in our municipal Duma.
Of course, entrepreneurial Angelenos still find opportunities, but largely by working at home or in one of the city’s surrounding communities. They tend to flock to locales like Ontario, Burbank, Glendale or Culver City, all of which, according to the recent Kosmont-Rose Institute Cost of Doing Business Survey, are less expensive and easier to do business in than L.A.
“It’s extremely difficult to do business in Los Angeles,” observes Eastside retail developer Jose de Jesus Legaspi. “The regulations are difficult to manage. … Everyone has to kiss the rings of the [City Hall politicians].”
Legaspi, like many here, still regards Southern California as an appealing place to work, but takes pains to avoid anything within the purview of City Hall. As the economy recovers, I would bet the smaller cities around L.A. and even the hard-hit periphery rebounds first.
The only immediate chance of relief for us Angelenos is if Villaraigosa (who will soon face term limits) takes off to run for governor. As the sole southern Californian and Latino candidate, he could prevail in a crowded Democratic primary. But the idea of this empty suit running the once great state of California–not exactly a paragon of good governance–may be enough to push even more people to the exits or, at very least, think about taking a very strong sedative.
Joel Kotkin is a Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive editor of newgeography.com. He is finishing a book on the American future and writes a weekly column for Forbes.