Question: Do you see the Internet replacing newspapers as the primary source of news in the United States?
Answer: When I was at Slate, there was a controversy about Microsoft putting newspapers out of business. There was lots of fear in general that the Internet was going to wipe out newspapers. I was a skeptic. Now I'm back in print and I really do believe that it may happen.
Q: What does that mean?
A: There is something big going on and we don't quite know what. I don't think newspapers as they exist now are going to be here as they are now. Newspapers as institutions are going to continue in some form, they ought to dominate the news. But I find it hard to believe that in 10 years you're going to have trucks delivering huge rolls of newsprint around and have presses turn them into huge printed pieces of newspaper and trucked to houses all over Southern California.
Q: Do you think newspaper editorial pages have lost some of their impact in terms of shaping public opinion?
A: We've had a lot of discussions about that. I think the role of unsigned editorials has diminished and the role of signed op-ed pieces and the Sunday section may not have diminished, but it certainly hasn't increased.
Q: What do you think of blogs, some of which have been harshly critical of you and the Times? Do you see them supplanting the traditional newspaper editorial page as a forum for civic discourse?
A: I think blogs are absolutely great. They could well put us out of business not newspapers, but newspaper opinion pages. I think newspapers do news better than any other medium out there, but I think blogs do opinion better than newspapers. It's the interactive nature of them. It's the immediacy of them. (The late New Yorker magazine journalist) A.J. Liebling said freedom of the press is for those who own one. Now just about anyone can own one.
Q: Susan Estrich has a blog that harshly criticizes you for what she said was a lack of female and local voices on the op-ed pages. Former Times reporter Kenneth Reich has a blog that accuses you of dumbing down the editorial pages and giving short shrift to local issues. How do you deal with the criticism?
A: It comes with the territory in two senses. In the first sense, if you're doing a good job with opinions, you're going to upset people. In the second sense, if you dish it out, you'd better be ready to take it. There are limits, and I thought what Susan Estrich did was more than I should have had to take. In general it does not bother me.
Q: What of the criticism that the Times doesn't publish enough women's opinions and favors national issues over local ones?
A: On the women thing, I've said all along that we need to improve. If you saw (media critic) Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post, of the three national newspapers with op-ed pages, we are the best (in terms of publishing women). We're not where we should be, but we're better than The New York Times or the Washington Post. On the local issue, if you look at our editorials, we cover local issues plenty. I haven't broken it down, but most of our editorials are on local issues. On our editorial board which by the way is half women the passions are disproportionately local: the school board, the mayor's race. There's lots of stuff on local issues on the op-ed page also. The final point I'd like to make is Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the country. It's really bush-league to care about where the writers are from. I think we should cover our community and I think we do.
Q: What are the most significant changes you're making?
A: We hope there's going to be a lot of changes in the online product. Right now it's basically shovelware the opinion section at least. I went and registered the domain opinionla.com. We may never use it, but I hope we do. There's no reason we shouldn't post every letter that we get. I was thinking last week I was writing my column and it was getting too long and I would have to cut it for the paper, but I thought about calling the Web people and asking if they could post the whole version.
Q: Some critics question your commitment to Los Angeles since you spend much of your time in Seattle. Do you feel grounded here?
A: Not enough. One of the reasons I took this job was I thought it would be really cool to get to know Los Angeles. This isn't something that was a bolt from the blue. I thought I was going to live here when I went to work for (law firm) Gibson Dunn ( & Crutcher LLP). It's not ideal this time-splitting thing and it's one of the reasons we added this editorial page (editor) position. Andr & #233;s (Martinez) lives here and he's really into this place.
Q: Turnout in last week's election was less than 30 percent. What do you think accounts for the political apathy?
A: Part of grumbling but not doing anything about it is a national vice. I wouldn't pin that on L.A. Seattle is sort of a farcically civic-minded place. I guess that compared to Seattle, Los Angeles seems like a chaotic place. L.A. is a much more vibrant place the chaos and the cacophony and the arguments are part of that vibrancy.
Q: Has technology helped you overcome the challenge of running an opinion section in Los Angeles while living part-time in Seattle?
A: To be really honest, it's fine. It's certainly not something we could have done 10 years ago. The telephone is really an underappreciated asset. We also have e-mail of course. It is not quite as smooth as the operation at Slate where we had offices in New York and Washington and Seattle and we had a copy editor in Cincinnati and a columnist in Berlin and it truly didn't matter where you were. Location matters more here. Being part of Los Angeles is a big part of the Los Angeles Times.
Q: Do you see yourself primarily as a caretaker of Times editorial philosophy, or as someone brought in to make a distinctive mark on the editorial and opinion pages?
A: I'm going to try to publish editorials that are right. All I have is my own judgment as to what is right. What matters is getting it right now, not what we may have said in the past. Having said that, I haven't bigfooted my way in here on every issue. Do we care about what they said 20 years ago? Not really. Before I was hired, we talked about my politics and the paper's politics and they're pretty similar. It's basically a mainstream editorial line. Sort of normal Democratic Party positions.
Q: Do you regret that the Times, consistent with its longstanding policy against endorsements in presidential races, sat out the 2004 contest between President Bush and John Kerry?
A: I'm willing to bet that we endorse in four years. It's an anomaly, an historical accident, really, that we didn't endorse. We talked about changing that, but by the time I got here the decision had been made. I felt strongly that we needed to take a position but it had been decided already not to do so.
Q: You've run full-page cartoons on the front of the Sunday Opinion section and added humor columnist Joel Stein. It has been suggested that you're giving the editorial pages a pop-culture sensibility at the expense of serious opinion.
A: There is a danger when you try to make something lively you can make it pathetic: an elephant trying to do hip hop. We're trying to be as lively as we can without being over the top. I'm not hip and I don't think Bob Sipchen the editor of that section is hip either. I hope he's not offended by that.
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