‘LA Times’ Staffers Greet Merged Newsroom With Cautious Enthusiasm

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By: Joe Strupp

Los Angeles Times newsroom staffers welcomed Editor James O’Shea’s announcement today of a combined web/print approach to news that emphasizes breaking online stories. But several rank-and-file newsies were concerned that the new approach may limit close editing of stories and questioned if it could be done well without many additional resources.

O’Shea, hired last fall to replace the fired former editor Dean Baquet, rolled out his plan during two sessions with staffers today, stressing the need for newsroom and Web journalists to think web first for stories and approach each day with plans to break news online.

“A lot of us are excited about the prospect of it, but the proof is in the pudding,” said Bill Nottingham, city-county bureau editor. “Whether Tribune will invest enough to make the technology of the Web work. My concern is on quality control. We need to make some adjustments to our process so the quality meets our journalistic standards. It can happen.”

Patrick McGreevey, an eight-year Times veteran who covers police, agreed. “It seems like they are going to have to increase staff for this, for writing stories on a moments notice,” he said. “There are concerns about quality control, the standards.” But McGreevey said the time for such a merger was overdue, given the industry’s push online. “A lot of us think that is where the industry is going,” he said. “It seems like it is a direction we have to go.”

But such a major shift in operation comes at a time when the paper is going through other growing pains as well. The paper lost its previous editor and publisher less than six months ago after a battle over budget cuts with owner Tribune Company. And now the parent chain is seeking to sell all or most of the properties, meaning Times workers remain unsure who will own them in the next year or so.

Add to that a continued Tribune effort to cut costs and those on the Times payroll have reason to take this new announcement with skepticism, or at least uncertainty.

“It is indicated to us that there aren’t going to be any new resources for this,” said Henry Weinstein, a 28-year veteran of the paper, who covers legal affairs. “In order to execute this plan, we need more resources.” Taking a jab at the Tribune Company’s willingness to spend big on contracts for its Chicago Cubs, he added, “I think the $40 million they spent to sign Ted Lilly would have been better spent on the Web site of this newspaper.”

Metro Columnist Steve Lopez also urged caution. “My concern is that I hope we don’t abandon what we know works,” he said. “To keep the people who already read us.” Still, he admitted that the online approach was necessary. “I think the projections for [falling print] ad revenue are scary enough that we have to try new things. It is time to adapt.”

Washington, D.C. bureau chief Doyle McManus also said the approach was a welcomed change. “It’s long overdue,” said McManus. “We all know that if we are going to survive and continue to be able to produce journalism of the quality we are known for, we are going to have to succeed online.”

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Related E&P Story:

‘LAT’ Editor: Web Will Be ‘Primary Vehicle’ for News Delivery

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