"Never has the family interfered in any way, shape or form with Times editorial policy."
(1899-1973) Norman Chandler never wanted to be publisher of the Los Angeles Times, but as the first-born son in Times’ publisher Harry Chandler’s brood of five girls and three boys, he understood early on that he had no choice in the matter. He began his apprenticeship delivering papers, followed by stints in every department—except the newsroom. Because his father always had grander deals in the works, Norman inherited a business that was losing money and readers. While not the visionary force his father had been, he was a far more orderly businessman. If not the man to create an empire, Norman was equipped to hold on to it. Throughout the Depression, both of William Randolph Hearst’s local papers, the morning Los Angeles Examiner and the Los Angeles Evening Herald, had more subscribers than the Times. Norman cut his staff ten percent but also created the first personnel department in any American newspaper. Its mandate remained the same for the next fifty years: hire the best people at wages equal to or higher than current union wages. Decades before it became the norm, the Times provided medical insurance, a pension plan and a special emergency fund for employees. Profits and morale soared.
But the quality of journalism remained a low priority. For most of his tenure, Norman Chandler published in the tradition of his father and grandfather: intensely partisan. “We were lopsided in those days,” he later said. “If we gave the Republicans a big story, we’d give the Democrats a small one. In labor disputes, we only printed management’s point of view.” Kyle Palmer, the paper’s longtime political reporter and one of the most powerful Republicans in California, summed it up to a visiting New York Times political reporter: “We don’t go in for that kind of crap you have back in New York of being obliged to print both sides.”
By the terms of his father’s second trust, Norman, as the family patriarch, served as chairman of the board of Chandis Securities, the holding company through which Harry Chandler’s heirs realized their inheritance in company stock. Chandis in turn maintained the controlling interest in the Times Mirror Company. In 1964, Norman advised his siblings that the company needed to diversify to protect both the newspaper and the family’s interests in the event of a recession. To raise investment capital, he recommended taking the company public on the New York Stock Exchange. After a hugely successful initial public offering, common logic dictated that the company issue more stock. Privately, the majority of his siblings refused until they could agree on Norman’s successor as chairman of Times Mirror. They were still chafing after he had chosen his 32-year-old son Otis to succeed him as publisher instead of their 53-year-old brother, Philip. By any measure, Otis had improved the paper’s reputation and balance sheet. But they considered him and the Times too liberal. In personal notes, Norman revealed a family torn apart: “How wrong is it for a family—not involved—to know the day to day operations and stop progress? Father would not have wanted a noose around my head. Now really stymied and consequences are frightening.”
Eventually, money proved thicker than blood as the promise of fatter dividend checks persuaded the siblings to let their brother run the business his way. Over the course of eight years, Norman Chandler acquired 25 new companies—all connected to the rapidly evolving world of mass communication. In 1973, he announced to thousands of stockholders that the Times Mirror Company had become the country’s largest publicly held publisher. Chandis Securities remained the majority shareholder. But family wounds would never heal.