What’s happening downtown to the venerable Times is more than a little heartbreaking. The once-great institution has spent the last decade as the plaything of outside interests, a ball of yarn slapped about by a rotating cast of Chicago Cheshires. There was a brief moment, a year actually, when it looked like there was a desire by the corporate parent to actually understand Los Angeles. But by and large the focus has been on cutting, not building.
Not that building is easy. You can’t offshore quality local news coverage.
So now comes Gannett, offering a pile of money to acquire the whole Tribune Publishing business. It may be McNewspaper, but at least it would put the Times in the hands of journalists and not a real estate investor or private equity portfolio. What to do?
Look down Wilshire, perhaps.
Los Angeles is the epicenter of a pitched battle among a number of journalism enterprises, a battle in which – oddly – all seem to be thriving.
The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, mainstays of entertainment business coverage for generations, have responded to the threat posed by digital upstarts The Wrap and Deadline Hollywood not by slashing but by rethinking their business models. Theirs were not knee-jerk responses, but thoughtful, creative answers that kept the end-user in mind.
Unable to compete as dailies against websites, Variety and THR are now glossy weeklies that have one eye on their core industry readers and the other on fanboys and fangirls who feel like Hollywood insiders when they read them. It has created an environment almost unthinkable elsewhere in the publishing universe: multiple competitors fight tooth and nail for readers, ad dollars, and page views and the result isn’t a bloodbath in the newsrooms, but rather products that have been universally improved by the competition.
Don’t expect the Times to go weekly or that an upstart daily will force it to raise its game. But there is a path to profitability in print journalism, and maybe there’s a reason to hope they’ll figure it out down on Spring Street.
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