Newspapers are dead: someone forgot to tell the LA Times

Updated 9 September (hat tip to AJ)

I got hold of the Sunday (7 Sept 08) edition of the Los Angeles Times yesterday. It’s one of the biggest newspapers I’ve ever seen. I got the guys in the hotel kitchen to weigh it for me. At 42 ounces it’s only marginally bigger than the biggest steak they sell in the restaurant here.

It’s one of those new narrow broadsheets. I’m not sure what we call them “broadloid”, “thinsheet”? I’ve no idea; if you have a suggestion for a new name, let me know.

What’s interesting is not only the news flow across the first 10 pages or so, but the sheer number of inserts and amount of advertising material that comes with it.

All the copies I saw in the hotel lobby come tied up with string, which is good I guess. It stops you chucking out the ad inserts till you get it home.

The news section was interesting because the front page and the first three or four news pages were dominated by non-American news.

The main top-of-the-fold piece was about a Mexican DEA official who’d been murdered in his home after organising a drug bust in the town of Tecate, which is one of the key border crossing points for the cartels.

There were five stories on the front page, none of which, except a piece about Sarah Palin being unable to win over working class women were really “newsy”. They were all features that carried over to the inside pages.

LA Times front page 7 Sept 08 - five stories, leads into features

LA Times front page 7 Sept 08 - five stories, leads into features

The other front page stories about the Federal mortgage crisis bailout; a man dying of AIDS who can no longer tend a memorial garden and a story about the cost of CT scans were more features than what we’d normally consider front page news and all continued on later pages.

Page three was “The World”, no news on page two, just an index, briefs and advertising. The page 3 story (and there was only one) was an AFP story about a rockslide in Cairo. It was surrounded by adverts for expensive watches and diamond jewellery. Now I’m starting to get a sense of LA, there’s loads of money here and huge pockets of poverty, mainly in Black and Latino communities; but they probably don’t get the Sunday Times.

Page four was the story of the new Pakistani president and page five an ad for Verizon phones (must have cost plenty). Page six another expensive full page ad, page seven a story about the opposition to Morales in Bolivia. So in the first seven pages, a total of eight stories. World news continued (at a story a page) till page 12. The Mexican cop story was continued on page 14. National news didn’t start until page 16.

This is an unusual set up and it doesn’t apply to the Times every day, but it’s an interesting take on the Sunday paper.

The lifestyle liftout sections were impressive – I’m talking about the size and number of them, not the content.

Image is all about style, it came next after the front news section.

Business concentrates on personal finance and real estate on Sundays, a slight departure from the weekly editions.

Next the classifieds, a slim section, bundled with cars, jobs and real estate.

Calendar is movies and television and as you’d expect in Tinseltown it’s a substantial bit of newspaper real estate. Of course, heavily supported by advertising, and some advertorial, though not marked as such.

Arts and Books is also substantial, for the more highbrow reader.

California (LA edition) covers more local features, but it’s 50% advertising, so there’s not that many stories in it.

Sport is, well, sport news.

The comic section is fairly slim, nowhere near as fat as I remember it from the Milwaukee Journal of the early 1970s.

And that’s it. I reckon on a rough count that 25-30 of the 42 ounces is advertising.

So, unless they’re giving ad space away, I reckon that the LA Times is still a healthy profit-maker for its owners.

Newspapers are dying, but it’s a slow decline, not a spectacular homicide by Web2.0.

The LA Times has been working to shore up investor value for a number of years.

In August [2006], the newspaper, then reportedly making a 20 percent profit, was told to make staff cuts to attain a 30 percent profit. Publisher Jeffrey Johnson refused, saying the staff had already been trimmed from 1,200 to 940 in recent years and further cuts would force it out of the top ranks of American journalism.

Christian Science Monitor, October 27, 2006

I haven’t found anything more recent. If you know of some posted profit figures for the Times or its parent Tribune group, let me know.

[Update] Thanks to Amberleigh, she’s sent me a link to the Tribune company’s quarterly statements for August 2008. The headline statement: the company continues to make losses.

CHICAGO, August 13, 2008Tribune Company today reported a second quarter 2008 loss from continuing operations of $3.8 billion compared with income from continuing operations of $35 million in the second quarter of 2007. The 2008 loss from continuing operations was due to after-tax non-cash charges of $3.8 billion to write down the Company’s publishing goodwill and newspaper masthead intangible assets, nearly all of which resulted from the Company’s Times Mirror acquisition in 2000.

Tribune also reported a loss from discontinued operations of $705 million in the second quarter of 2008 compared with income from discontinued operations of $1 million in the second quarter of 2007. The 2008 loss from discontinued operations was primarily related to the disposition of a controlling interest in the Company’s Newsday operations.

[Tribune media release]

2 Responses to Newspapers are dead: someone forgot to tell the LA Times

  1. William says:

    According to the LA Times, 53% of working age Los Angeles County residents have trouble reading street signs or bus schedules. So who is reading this paper? Perhaps they’ve found some other use for it.

  2. Dave Lee says:

    I wondered about the size too… eventually settled on just calling it ‘awkward American’.

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