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Loyal LA Times Readers Lament Cuts at Paper

August 7, 2008 at 6:50 PM EDT
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NewsHour Essayist Anne Taylor Fleming laments the newsroom cuts and budget woes of her hometown newspaper, the Los Angeles Times.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING, NewsHour Essayist: The sound of the day beginning, as far back as I can remember, it was the thud of the Los Angeles Times hitting the driveway. So hefty for so long, the Times was the only thing going in this town, a daily must-read for many of us who lived here.

Over the past 30 or 40 years, it set out to become one of the country’s premier papers, doing great reporting on stories from Washington to Vietnam and everywhere in between, all the while chronicling the transformation of L.A. into one of the planet’s great thrumming cities.

And now it’s going, really going. Its newsroom and number of pages have been dwindling, shrinking like so many papers. But owner Sam Zell is going to slash it further, intending, sources say, to bring daily circulation from a 1991 height of 1.2 million down to 500,000.

In short, the Times is putting its head down, reining in its residual ambitions, becoming an unapologetic vehicle for ads.

If you live somewhere forever, as I have in Los Angeles, the paper becomes your own personal journal of sorts. I grew up reading the comics, then switched to the heavier sections. And when I became a journalist myself — inspired in part by my religious daily reading of the paper — I wrote for the Los Angeles Times.

I’m in its archives. So are the obituaries of my father and the recent one of my stepmother, horror scream queen Hazel Court. So are the Pulitzer Prize-winning bylines of some of my friends. The paper, in short, is all tangled up with my personal, professional, and civic memories.

Get over it. That’s what I now tell myself. No point in wallowing in nostalgia.

Like many, I get an instant jolt of news the minute I log on in the morning, more and more adept at surfing the info byways of the ‘net. It’s fun, and quick, and tart, and, yes, maybe more unreliable than my old, faithful paper, but it’s clearly the new world.

I’ve moved, too, now doing some blogs and online commentaries, alas, for a pittance still. With rare exception, most of us ‘net-scribes are making just enough for our off-the-top-of-the-head insights to buy, well, maybe a daily newspaper or two.

It’s tough out there now for journalists and a little lonesome for those of us who grew up in this business. An online community is just no match for the camaraderie of a newsroom.

Give me “The Front Page” and “All the President’s Men,” guys and gals sitting on desktops, talking over their scoops. There was a noisy joy to it all being a young reporter in those days for those papers, just as there was a very tactile joy in padding out in your pajamas to pick up the paper when you heard that thud.

It still gets me going, alerts me to the morning, the thought of all that news rolling off those presses, bundles of paper being loaded into delivery trucks, all those words and stories sitting out there in my driveway.

But I no longer rush out to get it. The Los Angeles Times is just not the paper it was, and won’t be again. I’m trying to be pragmatic about the loss, but some days it’s just hard.

I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.