Man Fired for Doing Good Job, Newspaper Edition

What, like you want a GOOD newspaper?

His departure, from a position he had held only a year, widened a divide between The Times and its corporate parent. In Chicago, executives saw him as imperious and defiant, imperiling a centralization strategy that had recently saved the company $75 million, according to a figure it provided The New York Times.

But to many at The Los Angeles Times, Mr. Beutner and his plan represented ambition and optimism after more than a decade of management turnover, layoffs and cost-cutting that had demoralized many employees and reduced the newsroom from 1,200 to its current staff of about 500. The strategy, focused on growth, had quickly yielded more than $1 million in new revenue, and looked poised to yield more, said three people with knowledge of the company’s finances.

Newsrooms everywhere are given to apocalyptic predictions of their own demise. But more than a dozen current and former Times and Tribune staff members — both in the newsroom and on the business side — suggested that The Times was facing a crisis more dire than any it had previously weathered. It has been battered by cutbacks for so long, they said, that it cannot wait any longer for the company’s strategy, which has shown few signs of working, to bear fruit. It must grow its way to the future, they said, not slash.

Their concern is shared by some of the most powerful people in Los Angeles, many of whom Mr. Beutner numbers as friends. They have risen up to unleash what seems like years of pent-up frustration. “Tribune has just destroyed the paper over the years — they sucked the blood out of it — and only over the last year, since Austin became publisher, did it start to feel like a hometown newspaper again,” said Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor in whose administration Mr. Beutner served as deputy mayor.

We are finally, finally, finally starting to talk about what’s really happened to newspapers. Finally. I’ve been yelling about this for two decades. The Internet has done nothing to newspapers compared to what their corporate owners have done. The Internet took away an easy source of revenue nobody had to think about.

That’s all the Internet did. The rest of it, the cuts and the equating “less” with “not enough” and the justification and the trend-chasing and the flailing and the insulting readers and potential customers and the clueless bitching in the trades and the corporate weasel-speak, that was ALL a business management issue. We spent a decade having blogger ethics panels and not a goddamn minute having boardroom ethics panels, and this is the result.

And for that, firings aren’t the answer and paywalls aren’t the answer and hyperlocal isn’t the answer and writing endless wanking editorials about “digital first” aren’t the answer and for the love of Our Lord Baby Jesus the First Keyboarder cutting production days and cancelling home delivery aren’t the answer because Jesus God, people just want a good paper.

They want a good paper the same way they want a good web site or a good burger place or a good police force. They want something good that knows what it is about and provides a service that is valuable. That’s what customers of ANYTHING want. This shit isn’t complicated if you aren’t a lazy asshole who knows he can get away with the same line of bullshit journalists have been swallowing from other journalists for 30 years.

It isn’t complicated. It’s not about delivery systems, it’s about whether you are providing something good and can do that. If you want to not do that, but still make money, you’d better be running a casino or dealing cocaine, because those are the only two businesses where you can ruin your customer’s day and they’ll thank you for it.

A.

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