The changes at the Los Angeles Times under Chief Executive Sam Zell have been blasted by thousands of long-term subscribers. I purchased a full-page ad in the Studio City Sun newspaper, against my wife's wishes, to vent my anger at the foolish decisions being made by the Times' management.
BusinessWeek, Fortune magazine and other publications have taken Zell apart over questionable business decisions. I am sure the criticisms will continue in the weeks and months ahead.
I have been in the public relations, promotions and marketing business for more than 30 years. I usually get paid well for ideas and representation of my clients. I am now going to give the Times' management, free of charge, five ideas to strengthen the paper. Here they are:
The L.A. Times should have an AM radio weekly show and/or a weekly television show. We the readers could then hear or see a weekly discussion of the news with the reporters live and in color. Would it not be fun and informative to have Steve Lopez interview one of his sources for one of the segments? I would certainly like to meet via television or radio one of the foreign correspondents working in Iran, Pakistan or in Europe. With satellite technology, this can easily be done.
I worked briefly 20 years ago for the special events section of the Times circulation department. There is very little talent in this area. I made one major suggestion to them: Every month, more than 10,000 immigrants are sworn in as new U.S. citizens at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The Times should give a free one-month subscription to the new citizens. I believe a large percentage of the new citizens would continue to be regular subscribers to the L.A. Times. They just need to experience a daily newspaper.
The Los Angeles media market is made up of thousands of organizations. The homeowner groups are involved with public policy issues such as planning and transportation. In my area of the San Fernando Valley, the two largest homeowner groups are the Studio City Residents Association and Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. Together, they represent more than 4,000 homes. Why not coordinate with these groups, and offer a dirt-cheap six-month or 12-month rate to all the members? These groups could easily pay for the subscriptions as a bonus to their members. An additional 4,000 subscribers will be a big boost to the paper's audited circulation figures.
Maybe go back to the days of the paperman or -woman selling an afternoon paper on the street corner. We are so congested, a paperman or -woman could do quite well at our most congested intersections. The paper would have the hottest news of the day in print for the commuter heading home. This better utilizes the Times' large printing plants throughout the Southland.
The Times needs to be a little more fun. Do some fun contests with dumb or silly answers. Put on a commercial and make fun of yourselves. Hire the ad agency that created the Aflac duck. The mentality of Times culture needs to realize you can sell more newspapers with humor than with grief.
By increasing the revenue and adding more subscribers, the management of the L.A. Times will not feel pressured to further eliminate vital staff writer positions with the paper. They cannot make any more staff cuts without damaging the paper further.
Jack McGrath, formerly chief of staff to then-L.A. Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, has for 16 years been the owner of GM Communications, an advertising, media and promotion company in Valley Village.
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