Newspaper Editor's Departure Is Troubling

Jim O'Shea leaves the L.A. Times after refusing to trim the news budget.

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Many in journalism have deplored the fading vibrancy and strength of the nation's newspapers, large and small. Even those that were once the best in the business are hurting in large part because owners want more profits at the expense of shrinking news budgets.

To be sure, advertising is more highly competitive with television, magazines, and Internet sites. The poor economy isn't helping matters.

The latest episode in journalism's sad narrative was the firing of Jim O'Shea, editor of the Los Angeles Times, who refused to cut $4 million more from an already tight budget. O'Shea becomes the third editor to leave or resign in recent years over similar demands at the paper.

The talented John Carroll and Dean Baquet left the Times when confronted with orders to hack the budget further, meaning layoffs or outright firings. The Chicago Tribune Co., owned by that city's real estate mogul Sam Zell, now owns the Times. Zell has no background in the newspaper business.

The once powerful Times under the late Otis Chandler was transformed from a sleepy Republican booster to a significant force in postwar journalism. Along with the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, the paper moved into covering international as well as national news and dug deep with investigative pieces.

With editors like Ed Guthman and Bill Boyarsky; reporters like Jack Nelson, chief of the Washington bureau, and D.C. bureau investigative reporters Ron Ostrow and Bob Jackson, the Times could not be ignored. The Washington office, under current chief Doyle McManus, is still strong. But can it stay that way? (Full disclosure: Guthman, Nelson, Ostrow, and McManus have been friends for many years. All but McManus have retired.)

There is no doubt newspapers have a challenging role in the Internet age. Circulation has been lost in many urban papers. Buyouts of older reporters and editors, in many cases, have been necessary.

But there has been more than sufficient hand-wringing from those in the business who see Armageddon around the bend. Newspapers are going to survive with smart owners and editors who work to improve and innovate to give readers a useful product.

There are those of us who still want to hold the paper in our hands every day. That is why the latest departure at the L.A. Times is so troubling.