But how does The Times (and its owners) propose to earn our loyalty and trust so that we are willing to fork over our hard earned cash to subscribe to the paper and/or its web site?
The Times has been slammed by the internet. Its highly profitable classified ad section for cars, jobs, real estate, and general merchandise has been decimated by online verticals such as AutoTrader.com and Craigslist. Print advertisers have also migrated to the internet because ads can be targeted, the results measured, and the cost per lead is significantly lower. Because of the lower ad revenues, there have been cutbacks in the newsroom, impacting the paper’s content and its appeal to Angelenos.
Circulation has also tanked. According to a recent filing with the United States Postal Service, the average daily circulation is only 223,000 copies, a drop off of 66% over the last ten years and a far cry from the glory days when the average daily circulation was over a million copies.
Partially offsetting the decline in print is the growth of digital subscribers that now number over 270,000, almost double the level of two years ago. But trading print dollars for digital dimes means that The Times must have significant online growth.
Overall, The Times is rumored to be losing over $50 million a year.
The changed landscape has resulted in a significant shift in the revenue model. Today, newspapers are now more dependent on subscription revenue, not advertising dollars. Just look at the success of The New York Times.
But does The Times really care about us or are the owners and management too busy kissing the rings of our Elected Elite who occupy City Hall and the County’s Hall of Administration?
To earn our support, The Times needs to be on our side, representing the interests of every day Angelenos throughout the County, demanding transparency from all levels of government, unleashing investigative reporters to expose corruption and inefficiencies, hiring more reporters to cover budgets, and empowering the editorial board to be our advocates and take positions that may not be very popular with the political establishment. This may include pension reform or prohibiting new labor agreements that result in deficits.
Angelenos need our paper of record to investigate the cesspool known as Los Angeles City Hall, whether it be pay-to-play corruption, the giving away of the store to the public sector unions, the massive deficits and the failure of City Hall to address the revenue shortfalls, the billion dollar deficit for next year, the two unsustainable pension plans, or the failure to follow through on the excellent recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission.
The Times is at an inflection point because it is searching for a new executive editor to replace the retired Norman Pearlstine. This new editor, as part of his or her mission, must recognize the need to represent our best interests, not those of the political establishment and the public sector unions, so that we become loyal subscribers to our paper of record.
Will Patrick Soon-Shiong and Michele Chan, the husband and wife owners of the Los Angeles Times, make the commitment to support the transition to a citizen oriented publication that represents our best interests?
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)