Talking New Media

LA Times lowers paywall for Southern California fire stories

The voice for the country’s second largest city has gone through ownership changes, editor exits, now a newsroom union drive, yet rarely has gotten recognized for being one of the nation’s best dailies

These are certainly interesting times in Los Angeles and at the Los Angeles Times. As someone who started their professional publishing career in LA, at Hearst’s Herald Examiner, I simply cannot fathom the changes going on there.

First, it is the Times that may soon be a unionized paper (see here).

When I joined Hearst way back in 1981, it was the Herald Examiner that had a union, though it was an incredibly weak one. The paper had barely survived a nine year strike and very little good had come out of it. Hearst had made several really dumb decisions, the first of which was to merge its papers and taken the afternoon publishing slot, while the Times merged with the Mirror and had become the city’s morning paper. Then came the strike.

Since then Times-Mirror was sold off to The Tribune Company, which has proven a very poor owner, having gone bankrupt once, and changed ownership a couple of times, and now is called tronc, something a bad screenwriter might have thought up (right before being thrown out of the producer’s office).

When I moved to LA, Magic Johnson had just landed there and would soon lead the Lakers to the first of a series of championships. The Dodgers still have Steve Garvey and Davy Lopes and would soon beat the dreaded Yankees. Then the Raiders moved down south and won a Super Bowl. Finally, Wayne Gretzky came to town and made the Kings a real franchise. What a decade!

LA has always had its fire season, that time, usually in October when the Santa Anas blow in from the desert towards the ocean, making things even drier and more susceptible to fires. But I do not ever remember fires in December, it was usually the start of the rainy season.

Today, the LA Times dropped its paywall in order to allow readers to read their stories about the fires. It’s ghastly what is going on in Los Angeles. Pictures and videos of the fires along the 405 at commute hour are hard to believe. It is apocalyptic, and somehow appropriate for our time.

As someone who worked in LA in the newspaper business, I usually never said a good word about the Times, though I always subscribed. The Times was known for its long form stories, parodied as often as Hemingway. It was the more conservative paper, mostly because the Herald Examiner‘s circulation had shrunk down so far that its only area of real concentration was Hollywood, which was more liberal than the rest of LA.

But today, I feel for the Times staff and wish them the best during these trying times. They have another big fire story to cover and they are doing a great job.

The Lakers may suck now, and I’ve became a Giants fan years ago after moving north, but LA is the nation’s second largest city and it deserves a great paper. Today, I am a LA Times fan, and so should you be.