By all accounts the LA Times should be doing well. Absent the leverage demands of the parent company Tribune Media, the potential readership of the LA Times should be large. After all, the US Census Bureau shows 9.8 million people in Los Angeles County alone, and the Metro Area of LA (including Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernadino, Orange, and Ventura Counties) offer no serious competitor to the LA Times. [Thanks to Google for the excellent graph at the link.] For people interested in reading about sports, entertainment, or anything else to do with the Los Angeles metropolitan area, there would seem to be no real alternative to the LA Times. It should be a perfect world, both plenty of customers, and no serious competitors. Even local blogs such as LA Observed or Mayor Sam's Sister City (the latter joking "written" by long-deceased Mayor Sam Yorty) offer no serious competition for the broad categories of sports, news, local happenings, and entertainment and few financial resources to compete in those broad categories.
Why then is the LA Times in trouble, with an ever declining readership, ever declining advertising base, ever declining staff, and morale at the paper at rock bottom? The answer is of course, demographics. Simply put, there are not enough upscale, Liberal White newspaper readers to make the LA Times profitable.
It's worth noting that the LA Times circulation peak was in 1988, with 1.1 million readers, daily. The LA Times has been declining in circulation ever since, down to 739,000 daily, as the chart below makes clear. [Data from the Wikipedia cite, see also here]
[Click Chart to Enlarge]
Yet even as the paper has been mired in one controversy over another, from the carefully timed release of sexual harassment allegations regarding then recall candidate for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (two days before the vote), to the suppression of the video of Barack Obama at PLO operative Rashid Khalidi's going away party and controversy over revenue sharing of an LA Times published magazine celebrating the Staples Center, population has been increasing in LA County. The increase is 14%, from 1988 to 2008, while the decrease in circulation is fully one third, at 33%.
[Click Image to Enlarge]
It's useful to recall, how under fully 14% fewer people in LA County alone, the LA Times reached it's peak circulation of 1.1 million daily. The featured Sports columnist was Jim Murray, not J. A. Adande. Batting Cleanup for Murray was the sarcastic Scot Ostler. Pat Morrison, from PBS, was not a columnist, while Jack Smith was. The newspaper, while fairly socially liberal, had a moderate to conservative political bent, was oriented towards serving it's mostly older, male readership in the things that mattered, local Sports, politics, and entertainment. The paper spent comparatively few resources on hip/trendy, but unread music columnists like Robert Hilburn, or tragically hip (but unread) movie critics like Carina Chocano. Angry Hispanic chauvinists and Liberals like Al Martinez and Steve Lopez were largely kept under wraps. Knowing that readership of the LA Times was mostly White, Male, and conservative.
This focus changed, even before Otis Chandler relinquished day-to-day control in 1995, as senior editors began to focus not on what their customers wanted, but on competing with local NPR stations they'd listen to in the drive over to work. Despite, of course, all those NPR stations being subsidized affairs that required massive fundraising efforts quarterly and relied upon being license holders of valuable broadcast frequencies, through government largesse. The success of NBC, nationally, with the Brandon Tartikoff strategy was no help either. Tartikoff's strategy, was to trade absolute number of viewers at NBC in favor of young urban professionals, the yuppies. In the go-go 1980's, the strategy worked as advertisers clamored to get in front of people with money. For the LA Times, however, this strategy was disastrous.
Because locally, Los Angeles was changing. The increase in population, as seen in my post, Radio and the Death of Indie 103.1, was mostly Hispanic/Mexican. Whites were actually a declining part of the population, and there was not enough wealth being created to drive upscale advertising. Even worse, by it's very nature, paper newspapers cannot track the type of people reading it's content (and ads). While NBC and other broadcast networks could proudly tout through the Nielsen reports, just how many women 18-34, or other coveted demographic slices, were watching the shows and ads. Advertisers with the LA Times had no way of knowing if the ads were reaching the wealthy few of Marina Del Rey, Malibu, Santa Monica, the Venice Canals, or people in Torrance, Tarzana, or Culver City, decidedly less wealthy and therefore not worth paying extra for to reach.
Meanwhile, forces were brewing that would devastate LA's economy, create White Flight, and conspire to help mortally wound the LA Times. The forces had two names: Bill Clinton, and Rodney King.
Under Bill Clinton's leadership, the LA area lost175,000 jobs at a minimum. Losses accounted for fully 45% of all high tech jobs in 1998, the near peak of the Dot-com boom. The biggest losses in that sector since the end of WWII, affecting nearly 12,000 firms in the LA basin. As shown in this WSJ article, rosy projections by Clinton and his people about changing over to entertainment from aerospace proved a mirage. High paying jobs, and the ability of those high-paying jobs to sustain a White middle class (that read newspapers like the LA Times) in a region of high housing costs, taxes, and energy costs, collapsed with Clinton's defense cuts. As others have noted, particularly Steve Sailer, LA's geography does not lend itself to living just anywhere. Weather is brutally hot (and smoggy) in low-cost areas such as Riverside, San Bernadino, and the Antelope Valley. Meanwhile job centers are located in nice to live in coastal areas, making commutes brutal. Key coastal areas that have decent climates and easy commutes are off-limits because of huge concentrations of crime-ridden non-White populations, making gentrification a joke (Watts, South Central, Bell, much of Long Beach, and East Los Angeles all fall into this category). Parents have to spend considerable sums of money to live in school districts that are merely acceptable, where their children do not face gangs or anti-education populations. All of this was sustainable as long as high-paying jobs in either the assembly line or engineering staff and large supporting structure of ancillary firms continued to exist. By 1994, that structure was gone, and families unable to afford LA's high cost of living fled elsewhere. To Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado.
Few were inclined to stick things out, because of the impact of the Rodney King riots. The riots, and the inept, politically driven response by the LA and State leadership, lost the confidence of LA's middle class. The riots, occurring just hours after the Not-Guilty verdict in the trials of LAPD officers Koon and others, on April 29, 1992, killed 53 people and left substantial parts of the city (most of it located in Black/Hispanic South Central) in burnt out ruins. However, the beating of Reginald Denny, by a Black mob, as the LAPD and other law enforcement authorities retreated, shocked middle class Whites in the LA area. As did the televised gun battles between Korean shop owners and marauding gangs of mostly Black looters, with the law enforcement authorities absent entirely.
Here was unmistakable evidence that when it came to public safety or suppressing a mob of Black (or Hispanic, just as many if not more of the rioters and looters seen on TV were Hispanic/Mexican), the political leadership, from Republican Governors like Pete Wilson down to the LAPD Chief Darryl Gates, and Black Democratic Mayor Thomas Bradley, would choose to sacrifice public safety instead of crack down hard, on mobs of non-Whites. While expedient politically in the short run (avoiding hugely negative press coverage which was for the most part solidly pro-rioter, and predictably anti-police) this series of choices to sacrifice mostly White (and Korean) public safety in favor of avoiding criticism for shooting and mass arrests of Blacks and Mexicans, had predictable results.
Besides increases in gun ownership among Whites, those who could leave Southern California did so, for states that were noticeably more White, and committed to public safety. Loss of confidence in the entire class of leadership, Republican and Democratic alike, when it came to public safety, had the Los Angeles Basin White middle class ready to leave when economic hardship hit in the form of Clinton's defense cuts that destroyed the economic basis of the White middle class.
As a result of the White flight from the LA basin, the LA Times began to lose readership, and potential readership, year by year. All the while, more immigrants, legal and otherwise, crowded into the LA basin. However, nearly all of these immigrants were non-English speakers, and preferred their newspapers, if they read them at all, in their native languages. Further eroding the LA Times financial position. In response, the LA Times leadership, created more and more liberal coverage. Not just on the opinion pages, but in the coverage of everything from Sports, to Entertainment, to News.
Completely absent from the LA Times pages were the growing influence of the MS-13 gangs, their ability to push westward from Downtown LA into MacArthur/Westlake Park, and the flight of Blacks southward into Long Beach out of South Central and Compton as superior numbers of Mexican immigrants (and gangs) pushed them out of native turf. That many of the gang-related murders in the LA area each year were related to these struggles were never mentioned in the LA Times. Meanwhile, it was by no means unusual for LA Times movie critics like Carina Chocano to query film-makers/producers like Judd Apatow on why fat White Guys get all his jokes (Apatow responded that political correctness dictated that only Fat White Guys be funny, the subject of jokes) in PC-inquisitions. Much of the content of the LA Times resembled a PC inquisition, into the state of mind of any (White Male only of course) person who might harbor racist, or sexist, or homophobic thought (crimes).
Naturally, subscribers edged ever downward. To their current level, a third less than the 1988 peak. Now with a heavy debt load acquired by the leveraged purchase of the Tribune Company by owner Sam Zell, the LA Times seems circling the drain like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and other newspapers that might cease publication altogether in favor of online-only limited content.
The environment for Print Newspapers is dire. Newsosaur notes that young people (and there are few of them to begin with, at least White ones, due to the birth dearth) do not like to read newspapers, and the percentage that do has declined from 40% or so in 1999, to around 30% today. This is consistent with other findings. Older (White) Americans, age 65+, read newspapers the most (above 70% in 1999, to about 65% today). While ALL groups have declined, only ages 45 and up both started and finished above 55% in reading newspapers regularly).
Even worse, ad sales slid an appalling $2.6 billion last quarter or fully 28.3%. There is not any prospect of an upturn in the economy bailing out a failed strategy of appealing to ever younger, more liberal readers, who don't read newspapers in the first place, while alienating older, more conservative readers. The collapse of the housing industry and banrkuptcy of GM and Chrysler, means that ads for houses and autos, mainstays of newspaper advertising, are largely gone. Not to be replaced or revived any time soon.
Clearly, the LA Times, and parent Tribune Company, is only a few short steps away from bankruptcy, and perhaps cessation of the print publication of the LA Times. I doubt many readers will miss them.
So what is ahead for papers like the Times?
They can probably soldier onward, zombie-like, as glorified blogs. Costs for electronic versions are astonishingly low, but there remains the problem of getting people to read their content. The LA Times certainly could have driven millions of viewers to it's website by the simple expedient of putting up the video of Barack Obama at Rashid Khalidi's going away party. That it did not speaks volumes about it's desire to present ideological purity and propaganda (news suppression) over providing content someone might actually want to read. But simply producing a glorified "professional" version of LA Observed without the style and critically, the content of that website is not going to produce profits. Merely lower levels of losses.
Newsosaur, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, believes that his "ViewPass" will allow newspapers to charge prices content on array of mobile devices a sort of me-too operation in the way that the NFL or MLB charges for games streamed onto mobile phones and the like. I don't think that will succeed. Simply because newspapers are unable to provide anything worth reading.
Lost in all of this is the generational change of leadership in newspapers and indeed nearly all media. Old-line editors were like columnists such as Jack Smith or Jim Murray. They understood, and shared, the likes, dislikes, prejudices, virtues, and flaws of most of their readers. Because they were like their readers: older, Whiter, more conservative, middle class, and well, male. They certainly were not part of the liberal hothouse of academia and the media that exists today, advancement was through apprenticeship and demonstrating that stories generated readers (and thus money), not through "correct" ideology and gender, race, and sexual orientation membership. It would have been unthinkable in the Jim Murray era for the LA Times to employ a Sports Writer who openly had (a publicly celebrated in the LA Times pages) sex change operation. It simply would not have been tolerated, the risk of canceled subscriptions was too high, and the paper's purpose was to turn a profit, not push a social agenda (one alien to most of it's readers).
When the agenda of "celebrating" the transformation of Mike Penner to Christine Daniels takes precedence over providing an enjoyable Sports section for the morning breakfast table, newspaper management has lost all ability to connect with it's potential readers. A "ViewPass" can provide all the centrally managed mobile content that can be created, potential readers won't pay for Sports content provided by trans-gendered folk, even if said content is free.
Newsosaur is quite skeptical of the ability of the government to provide bail-out money. The losses are too deep, and the taxes required too onerous, to provide a complete Pravda model. While it's certain bailouts will be proposed, the ability to push them through in hard economic times when readers have already voted with their wallets (not to subscribe) is questionable.
It's quite likely, instead, that various bloggers, and conglomerations of bloggers, locally, will provide content, and that as newspapers like the LA Times shrink down to LA Observed / Mayor Sam's Sister City size, those bloggers or people like them will grow upwards. After all, it's all about content.