LA Times is Shocked – SHOCKED – People Aren’t Subscribing

@THE GUSS REPORT-The last two members of my family to read the print edition of the LA Times, the largest newspaper west of wherever, were born when Calvin Coolidge was POTUS 30 and FDR was POTUS 32.

Within five years, I say that only the Times’ Sunday edition will be in print, and that it will stop printing that within another five years. It’s headed to all-digital in due time. 

But last week, the Times’ dirty little secret was exposed: it has failed miserably to get – and keep – digital subscribers, while the New York Times has 2.7 million, the Washington Post has 1.7 million and the Wall Street Journal has 1.5 million digital subscribers. 

By comparison, the LA Times has a paltry 170,000 digital subscribers, reflecting a net gain of just 13,000 in the first half of 2019 after cancelations are cranked in, known in the industry as its churn rate. The paper had hoped to reach 300,000 and it is galaxies away from the five million digital subscriber goal of its owner of one year, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong. 

A fascinating new report last week from the Harvard-based Nieman Lab addresses the LA Times’ failure.    

Also last week, CNN filed this story on how Times executive editor Norm Pearlstine ham-handedly addressed the issue in a reportedly hostile all-hands meeting. (You know you’re in big trouble when CNN, which hemorrhages viewers, reports on the Times’ hemorrhaging digital subscribers.) 

While the Times staffers seem to think its digital-subscriber woes are due to poor execution on its business side, what they are blind to is this: people do not trust the LA Times to report honestly. 

I reached out to Times spokesperson Hillary Manning to see whether they did any studies to determine why people aren’t sticking around as paying digital customers. She didn’t reply, which you can reasonably take to mean that the Times either doesn’t know why digital subscribers are leaving or they know but are too embarrassed to admit that it has a severe credibility problem with readers.

Then again, why would anyone pay for news when all the major cable outlets – and aggregators like Google, Drudge, Breitbart and others -- give away the content for free? In fact, Google’s updated Chrome browser now makes it easier than ever to sidestep the Times’ pay wall. 

The LA Times has long gotten away with endorsing politicians who have failed us. It champions them. It makes excuses for their failures. And then promotes their family members to be their replacements.  Take a look at its fawning coverage of California Governor Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA City Council president Herb Wesson, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and most recently, LA City Councilmember Nury Martinez. 

Last week, a huge blaze in the Sepulveda Basin wiped out a massive homeless camp that Martinez has long ignored, both in terms of babies being born there, prostitution and drug use, not to mention the extreme danger to people – and to animals – living there. 

Instead of holding Martinez’ feet to the proverbial fire, the Times instead fawns over Martinez as the presumed next LA City Council president, because it is more focused on helping to make history with Martinez as the first Latina in that role rather than reporting her colossal failures in office. 

That right there is just one example of why people simply don’t trust the LA Times. 

And tangentially, why do we know the sexual (and other) preferences of some of the Times reporters? When did that become a thing, and how has their doing this interfered with their ability to report honestly and without biases or perceived biases? 

If nothing else, at least one local politician, LA City Councilmember Paul Koretz, is so enthralled with the Times that he was captured in this photo from Friday’s meeting reading its California section instead of paying attention to the people who took time out to show up, share their concerns and ask questions. (In fairness, the other Councilmembers weren’t paying attention either.) 

The LA Times isn’t alone in reporting dishonestly. In June, Southern California News Group’s (SCNG) Jason Henry reported on the ongoing troubles of LA City Council’s perjuring bigamist Curren Price and his wife Delbra Richardson’s rejected insurance claims; this story has its roots in this column’s original and extensive reporting, and that of our friends at 2 Urban Girls. Henry wrote, “The Los Angeles Times questioned the divorce in 2017,” when in fact, that column actually credited CityWatch for breaking it, though it only linked to our front page and not the original story. Henry did not respond to questions about this, and SCNG’s executive management responded by sticking with its insularity over integrity. 

Hey, good luck with that, folks. 

This is why people don’t fork over their spare change and stay as subscribers. As they say in the biz, churn, baby, churn. 

Lastly, as this column first pointed out, the rumored $500 million that Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong shelled out last year for the Times and an assortment of smaller papers was overvalued by hundreds of millions of dollars. By comparison, in 1993, the New York Times bought the highly accomplished Boston Globe for $1.1 billion. But 20 years later, the Times dumped the Globe for just $70 million to the owner of the Boston Red Sox. That’s a nearly 97% loss on a quality asset. Unless things change drastically at the Times, including establishing public trust, Dr. Soon-Shiong is setting himself up for a similar massive financial loss. 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.