Downsizing the News at the L.A. Times

The continuing departure of L.A. Times staff, thanks to the downsizing agenda of its new owner Sam Zell, has sunk the paper to an incredible low point. Some of the finest journalists have now departed the paper: staffers like Henry Weinstein (who long represented the conscience of the paper and whose coverage of legal affairs and labor was insightful and invaluable); Marla Cone (among the best environmental reporters in the country); and Bob Sipchen (who sought to make the opinion pages both more lively and innovative).

The L.A. Times has gone through upheavals before, to be sure.

The Chandler family long used the paper as its tool for a virulent reactionary politics and an effective economic instrument for its own purposes. Even when the paper changed in the 1960s and 1970s, those changes happened, at times, despite rather than due to a progressive vision of the publisher. The more noteworthy of paper’s heroes during the past four decades had been a handful of its editors (Frank McCulloch during the early 1960s comes to mind) as well as those reporters who stretched boundaries, shifted the paper away from its past reputations, and made more visible the issues, communities, and ideas that had been previously at the margins of the paper’s coverage. When the Tribune Company bought the paper in 2000, the Times had already suffered some embarrassments, such as the paper for sale scandal around the Staples supplement. Tribune made matters worse, highlighting downsizing as its own version of how to undermine a paper’s reputation.

Now comes Sam Zell who clearly has no shame in gutting the paper.

I’ve thought about the shrinking news hole as I’ve followed the fascinating and not reported story through emails and blogs of the battles now taking place regarding the proposed warehouse development on the site of the bulldozed South Central farm. It’s a great newspaper story – political intrigue, battling agencies (South Coast AQMD vs. L.A. City Planning Department), the return of the immigrant farmers, huge numbers of truck trips increasing the particulate matter in the area and the region; enviros battling it out with a well connected developer. But you can’t find it in the L.A. Times, nor, one presumes, would Sam Zell care.
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Bob is Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute. He is the author and co-author of twelve books and numerous other publications, including Food Justice with Anupama Joshi (MIT Press, 2010), Reinventing Los Angeles: Nature and Community in the Global City (MIT Press, 2007), The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City with Mark Vallianatos, Regina Freer and Peter Dreier (UC Press 2006); Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement (Island Press, 1993); A Life of its Own: The Politics and Power of Water (HBJ 1989), and Environmentalism Unbound: Exploring New Pathways for Change (MIT Press, 2001). He is also the editor of two MIT Press series, “Urban and Industrial Environments” and “Food, Health, and Environment.” A long time environmental and social justice activist, Bob Gottlieb has been engaged in researching and participating in social movements for more than 50 years.

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3 comments on “Downsizing the News at the L.A. Times
  1. gary polakovic says:

    Nice commentary, Bob.

  2. gary polakovic says:

    Nice commentary, Bob.

  3. The South Central Farm struggle is core to the food justice issues we work for everyday. Learn more about South Central Farms:
    There is also a new documentary, THE GARDEN, out exposing what happened to South Central Farm: In the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, hundreds of mostly Mexican-American families came together and turned a blighted corner of South Central Los Angeles into an urban oasis; complete with guavas, papayas and enough fruit and vegetables to feed hundreds of families.

    But now bulldozers are poised to demolish their garden… For a developer who wants the land to build warehouses. But, as farmer Rufina Juarez says: “Not this time.” “The Garden” explores the fault lines in American Society. It is the story of the country’s largest urban farm, backroom city politics, land developers, money, poverty and power.

    The Garden, by director Scott Hamilton Kennedy, won best U.S. documentary at the recent SilverDocs festival in Silver Spring, MD.

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