As I left my hometown of Los Angeles in the rearview mirror, I had a few thoughts about how I’d done most everything to be satisfied as a true Angeleno: I’d gotten my fill of the landmarks while desperately trying to avoid tourist lairs. I’d made friends sitting in 405 traffic. I’d watched Pulp Fiction with Quentin Tarantino, walked a red carpet, and been accidentally photographed by a paparazzo who jumped out of a bush, clicking away, as I pulled out of the drive at the Four Seasons. (After which I went home to Long Beach, and he probably got canned.)
But I left behind something as I crossed the state line, and then another, pulling into tranquil St. George, Utah, on my first night. Back in La-La Land, the city of dreams, the newspaper industry was rapidly degenerating into a nightmare.
One might say it started with papers’ confusion about who they were going to be in terms of local or broader coverage. It got worse when L.A. papers got left behind in the trend of online news and independent journalism, an adaptation stymied by ineffectual management or resources. And once you lose the readers — and I met many Angelenos who felt there was no paper for them, just relentless agenda-pushing — it’s all south from there.
After I reached Denver, I caught up on the grim news: The latest round of cuts had begun at the Los Angeles Times, with staffers being called at home with the bad news or forced to take the unceremonious walk to the H.R. department. This round called for 150 axed from the newsroom, according to reports, with more allegedly planned for later in the year. Sites such as L.A. Observed and Tell Zell — a blog by an anonymous Times staffer that takes to task Sam Zell, the Chicago billionaire who bought and has proceeded to houseclean the Times — have spent days running tearjerking farewell notes and roll calls of dismissed employees.
My alma mater, the L.A. Daily News, had gone through its own purge earlier this year. The editor who had resisted the depth of the cuts, Ron Kaye, was gone a couple of weeks later. Those of us left behind began looking. Most of those filing notice were giving up their journalism careers in favor of public relations, teaching, even the police academy.