A bright future? LA Times tries to focus on journalism as sale takes longer

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It would be journalism purgatory if stories weren’t getting posted all the time — and a paper didn’t have to get produced every day.

At the Los Angeles Times, the walls are stripped of the framed front pages from its past. The giant blue trash bins are around for large-scale “spring cleaning” — the euphemism encouraged by management. The newsroom TV studio has been taken down, the black curtains removed.

Offices sit empty that once contained the Pulitzer-laden paper’s editor, digital chief, national/world editor and managing editor, the last space briefly taken by Tronc editor Lewis D’Vorkin — before he was ousted. On Wednesday, employees learned that the cafeteria would be closing at month’s end — even if the newsroom move, originally thought to happen by then, may not occur until July.

“We’re a resilient place,” says Andrea Chang, assistant business editor. “As you can see, I haven’t thrown anything away yet.”

Despite the uncertainty, Wednesday's midmorning news meeting pulsed with a half-dozen solid story pitches. Scott Kraft, the news veteran running the meeting and the paper’s daily output, gave a slight acknowledging shrug when asked how staff members get it done without knowing where they’ll be working or when and where they can get coffee.

“We have to focus on the journalism,” he said. Other editors said the Times dealt with turbulence throughout much of the soon-ending ownership of Tronc, once Tribune.

Until the purchase is finalized, billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, the incoming owner, cannot make basic moves. Soon-Shiong has sought the counsel of former Time and Wall Street Journal chief Norman Pearlstine, who has been questioning selected staff members to help him figure out the terrain. The lack of transparency has irked some in the newsroom.

When the purchase is completed, all sorts of work needs to be done. Rethinking audience. Subscription and member strategies. Potent product management. Learning how to manage with a new union. And decisions on how to structure the newsroom, which has been cut, to recalibrate for the jobs that need to be done now and in the future.

That said, the Times has a huge market to mine, a thriving economy around it, tantalizing possibilities in entertainment and sports niches — and the opportunity to be a convener and leader in a diverse, decentralized community.

In the meantime, the tours shuffling through the building are multiplying. Readers want to see the old building before it is converted, and the old newsroom before it moves to office space in El Segundo. Ben Welsh, an editor on the LAT’s data desk, did a humorous, impromptu Twitter tour of the old place that, unexpectedly, reached more than 650,000 people.

Welsh, speaking for many, says he cheered the announcement of the paper’s sale, and months later, he’s ready to get moving — and end this journalistic purgatory.

“We’ve got a honeymoon period,” Welsh says. “But every day that this lasts …”

Quick hits

THE OTHER SHOE: A day after the AT&T/Time Warner ruling, Comcast upped bidding for most of Fox to $65 billion, topping an earlier Disney offer by about 20 percent. 

DOWN DOWN DOWN: That's circulation, revenue and employment for U.S. newspapers. Poynter's Kristen Hare explains.

A RELIGION?: “I believe that every story is a prayer,” Dustin Dwyer writes in Nieman Reports. Dwyer says he supplanted organized faith for journalism in his 20s, and, in broad strokes, was a convert to journalism, which he calls an act of faith. My $.02: Like science or law, journalism can be encompassing, a ticket to a lifetime of intellectual rigor. But for many journalists, it’s not an “either-or” — a strong religious faith is still vital to their being, as is the drive to hold officials accountable or to dig up facts to help an audience have the tools to live a better life. Readers, I’d love to hear your views on this. Write me at dbeard@poynter.org.

SMALL NEWSROOM, BIG AMBITIONS: They're not mutually exclusive — and Poynter's Kristen Hare offers examples.

AN ENDOWMENT FOR JOURNALISTS: That’s what one Stanford journalism fellow is suggesting. Coinciding with research we’ve done over the past year at Poynter and the Atlantic, Don Day sees a commonality in values between librarians and journalists. Day thinks a model akin to libraries is possible. Read his essay here. (Hat tip: Karen Wickre)

SOCIAL MEDIA AND GANGS: That's how the cycle of aggression and violence has been amplified and speeded up, The Washington Post's William Wan reports.

GOOGLE'S TRUMP CARD: In wooing publishers, the secret weapon appears to be reminding them about Facebook fatigue, writes Digiday's Lucia Moses

REMEMBERING TIM RUSSERT: He died a decade ago yesterday. Betsy Fischer Martin and Erin Fogarty Owen said they have carried these lessons from their former NBC colleague: Read voraciously, be prepared, simplify what you're saying and send personal notes. Your morning columnist adds: Read "Big Russ & Me," Russert's memoir about his father and the lessons "Big Russ" taught him about life. 

What we’re reading

HOW AMERICA GOT HOOKED: A look at seven years of annual marketing plans by Oxycontin’s maker gives an insight into how the company pushed the addictive pain-killer onto doctors and patients. As hundreds of states, cities and counties sue maker Purdue Pharma, alleging its aggressive marketing of OxyContin caused an epidemic of overdose deaths and addiction, the unearthing of the documents by Kaiser Health News lets readers decide if the company crossed a line. 

ANOTHER PLACE WE SHOULD FOLLOW: One of the worst humanitarian crises is happening in Yemen — and on Wednesday, a Saudi-led fighting force made it worse by attacking the main port for humanitarian aid. The port is also controlled by a group of Iranian-backed rebels that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other nations are fighting.

THE ONE ARTICLE YOU SHOULD READ ABOUT THE WORLD CUP: It is by the sublime Brian Phillips, in the New Yorker, with the title: "Messi vs. Ronaldo, Magic Cats, Iceland!!, and the Entire Emotional Context in Which Much of Human Life Transpires." I'm not kidding. This World Cup, kicking off this morning, is big. It's strange. It's hosted by Putin. Here's Phillips' lead: "Ladies and gentlemen, start your psychic octopuses." If you're still with me, here's a schedule.

PET DETECTIVE GETS HER POOCH: Police were impressed with the sleuthing skills of Amarilys Martinez, who solved the case of her stolen 11-year-old Shih Tzu through Facebook. Her only weapon? A stapler.

Celebrating a milestone on Poynter.org 

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And have a good Thursday.

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