Romenesko Letters
Los Angeles Times environmental editor Geoff Mohan writes to the New York Times (and cc's his letter to Romenesko): "I was shocked today (1/24/11) to find there are people who gripe about the good old days in Los Angeles, and I thank the New York Times for visiting our city to tell us they were here." ...I pray the New York Times doesn’t have to close sections, shrink its newsprint, whore its front page to advertisers and cut its staff in half while a gang of former radio hatchet men hired by a megalomaniacal real estate imp guts the company." || CJR's reaction and a Romenesko reader's comment.


Los Angeles Times newsman Geoffrey Mohan's letter to the New York Times (with copies sent to Romenesko and CJR)

I was shocked today (1/24/11) to find there are people who gripe about the good old days in Los Angeles, and I thank the New York Times for visiting our city to tell us they were here. Equally, I thank you for couching your astonishing discovery with dismissals of the late accomplishments of the bemoaned Los Angeles Times.

“Never mind,” Jeremy Peters instructs, that “The [Los Angeles] Times is considered a front-runner to win a Pulitzer Prize this year for its coverage of city officials in Bell who gave themselves enormous salaries, a story that tapped into a growing national outrage over wasteful government spending.

“Or that it still maintains, despite all the bloodletting since the paper was bought in 2000 by the Tribune Company, 13 foreign bureaus, more than any other large metropolitan daily except The Washington Post.

“Or that it is the only big-city daily that still employs a battalion of correspondents stationed in cities across the country.

What matters, apparently, is that a 66-year-old merchant in a “quaint” neighborhood misses “the old Hollywood starlets and socialites who graced the society pages.” For that, we are not the “world-class paper” that we used to be.

Never mind? That’s a dagger in the backs of good journalists who have survived a withering battle and managed to hang on to our ideals, quality and integrity. I pray the New York Times doesn’t have to close sections, shrink its newsprint, whore its front page to advertisers and cut its staff in half while a gang of former radio hatchet men hired by a megalomaniacal real estate imp guts the company. But let’s note that The New York Times’ institutional stamina remains untested by the kinds of trials we have overcome.

I grew up reading the New York Times, the Daily News and the Staten Island Advance. The Times sure could cover the world and expand the horizons of a son of a fireman. But in its own city, it never ventured far from midtown Manhattan. Take a poll of readers in the “outer boroughs” of New York City and see what people there think of the haughty broad brush of the New York Times, which never fails to underestimate their intelligence and overestimate their patience.

This institutional habit might explain why your reporter would resort to the tired cliché we find in the second paragraph: “Here in the city that has always strived to show how a sense of sophistication lies beneath the silicone and the superficial, The Times has joined the city’s impossible freeway traffic as a unifying force of complaint.”

I celebrate the fact that we once obtained “world class” status despite our implants and superficiality. But I’m puzzled at what “world class” means – no doubt because I fled the gravitational pull of Manhattan and moved to the West Coast, in the process losing dozens of IQ points as I crossed the borders of states that New Yorkers define as “flyover.”

I do know this about where I live and where I write: The Los Angeles Times put an “outer borough” city on the map by going there and digging out the truth, without the extra sections and laid-off superstars or society pages full of Hollywood starlets bemoaned by the middle-aged west-siders Jeremy Peters interviewed.

When Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives showed up to the Bell city council after breaking the story of how that city was ransacked, many of the residents who flooded the room had the Los Angeles Times in their hands, some for the first time. And they demanded that Jeff and Ruben sign their copies. That’s probably not World Class.

It’s just plain class.

Geoffrey Mohan