Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 5/2/2013 [Archive]

The LA Times -- Before it Became The Titanic

The L.A. Times — before it became the Daily Titanic

By Bill Steigerwald

The 1980s was the Golden Age of newspapers.

In that greedy decade the Los Angeles Times, where I worked as a copy editor and freelance writer/reviewer, was a major national media power.

It still had about 1.1 million readers and more international bureaus than the CIA.

It could afford to pay top writers $50k a year to write three mega-stories per annum that were too long to read, or assign two investigative reporters to the Scientology beat for years without them ever printing a word. It had about 1,100 editorial employees then, more than twice what it has now.

Today the Times is like most dinosauric daily newspapers in the post-Digital Age. It's shriveled and sickly and still unable and/or unwilling to adapt to the Internet and its culture of openness.

It's too late. Culturally and politically, the L.A. Times is nationally irrelevant and cloutless. Worse than Time or Newsweek.

The Times and its bankrupt corporate daddy the Tribune Company are up for sale for about $600 million — a fire-sale price.

As a libertarian, and as the only open libertarian I knew working at the Times in the 1980s, I hope the fabulously rich libertarian Koch brothers buy the paper with their pocket change and give some of my few surviving liberal friends there a taste of their own medicine.

It'll be interesting to see how my fellow journalists react to having bosses — i.e., devout libertarian/conservative publishers and the non-liberal editors they will certainly hire — who don't have the same political biases they have (and don't know they have).

The Times, as any non-Obama-loving reader or non-liberal journalist knows, desperately needs some more ideological diversity (ID) — on its editorial pages but primarily among its subeditors and reporters. It needed ID in the 1980s. I'm sure it still does. All big-city papers always did and still do.

Meanwhile, rooting through my Los Angeles Times archives the other day I found shocking evidence of just how far the mighty L.A. Times, aka the Daily Titanic, has sunk in terms of what it once spent on the gathering and spinning of news and opinion.

Two nicely typed pages detail the Times' enormous 1982 editorial budget (which included my paltry $30,000 a year salary as a part-time copy editor in Calendar, the arts & entertainment section).

© 2012 Bill Steigerwald, Bill was born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist for The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He retired from daily newspaper journalism in 2009. Contact Bill at xpaperboy@gmail.com. See Bill's e-book Dogging Steinbeck at Amazon.com -- which exposes the truth about "Travels With Charley" — it's the perfect gift for people who prefer fact over fiction.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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