The LA Times’ editor mea culpa, plus Dolly Parton’s podcast and how mistakes get in the paper

August 2, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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Good Friday morning, and welcome to the end of what has been a busy week. The Democratic presidential debates dominated the political news, but the media story of the week came out of the newsroom of the Los Angeles Times. That story continued Thursday evening.

 

‘That was a failure on my part’

More news at the Los Angeles Times (which I wrote about Thursday night): Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine hosted an all-staff meeting and started by saying he made a mistake. He said he was sorry for not meeting with his newsroom before sending out a memo about the paper’s urgent digital subscription issue — a memo that left his staff furious.

One person who was in the meeting said Pearlstine opened by saying, “I have been in this business for so long, I thought I had made every mistake there was.”

Then, the 77-year-old said, “You’re never too old to f— up.”‬

On Tuesday I reported that Pearlstine and Managing Editor Scott Kraft sent a memo to the newsroom that painted a bleak picture about digital subscriptions. The Times was hoping to add 150,000 digital subscribers this year and it has only netted 13,000.

One Times staffer said the memo caused a firestorm in the newsroom because it felt as if the editorial department was being blamed for the digital woes. Another staffer confirmed there was anger in the newsroom because it felt it was being picked on.

Pearlstine told me over the phone on Thursday evening, “If the newsroom felt it was being picked on, that was a failure on my part, which is one of the reasons I wanted to have the meeting and apologize for not having the meeting first. I just felt with the introduction of a new content management system, the reorganization of management and a whole bunch of things happening on the business side … this was a good time to push us on digital subscriptions.”

Check out the story for more details on the meeting and additional comments from Pearlstine.

What’s next for the LA Times?

The LA Times currently has about 170,000 digital subscriptions, managing editor Scott Kraft told me earlier this week. Pearlstine admitted to me on Tuesday that reaching 150,000 new digital subscribers likely won’t happen this year, but he remained optimistic that the long-term goal of having a million subscribers would eventually happen.

Reaching that many would put the Times in rarefied air with the likes of The New York Times (2.7 million, according to a report by Joshua Benton in Nieman Lab) and the Washington Post (1.7 million). Many other major metros come nowhere near those numbers. The Chicago Tribune, for example, is at around 100,000 and the Dallas Morning News sits at around 72,000, according to Benton’s story.

The issue, however, is the Los Angeles Times is trying to straddle the line of being a local and national newspaper. The New York Times and the Washington Post are national/international papers. Pearlstine emphasized the Times’ outstanding local coverage during our conversations, but also said the Times had opportunities to reach readers beyond the state of California.

  

Many, however, remain skeptical that the Times can make that leap to join the New York Times and The Washington Post. New York University professor and media observer Jay Rosen tweeted:

“I’m rooting for the @latimes to make it. We need a kick ass newsroom in LA. But @jbenton has convinced me that their strategy is to be a national publication. If that’s true, they need a value proposition that distinguishes@latimes from what NYT and WP do. So far I don’t see it.”

To be fair, the LA Times is still adjusting to new technology after breaking away from its former owner, Tribune Publishing Company, and a reorganization of editorial leadership. Considering the outstanding journalism being done at the Times, I wouldn’t count it out just yet from succeeding digitally at a high level.

Pew study: The first cut was the deepest

The news isn’t getting any better for newspapers. Read the latest from Poynter’s Kristen Hare, who sifts through somber news from the Pew Research Center. The gist: In 2018, slightly fewer papers had layoffs than in the year before, but a higher number had multiple rounds of cuts.

As Kristen aptly phrased it: “more Do-you-have-a-plan-B? news.”

Overall layoffs were down 27% from 2017 to 2018. But in 2017, 17% of papers had multiple rounds of layoffs.In 2018, that number was 31%. (Researchers looked at 97 newspapers with Sunday circulation of 50,000 or more.)

 

‘Do you have any idea how damaging this is?’

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), left, and Fox News personality Tomi Lahren. (AP Photo)

Fox News commentator Tomi Lahren apologized Thursday for suggesting that Democratic presidential candidate and California Senator Kamala Harris slept her way to the top.

In a tweet, Lahren wrote, “Kamala did you fight for ideals or did you sleep your way to the top with Willie Brown?”

Harris was in a relationship with former California Assembly speaker and eventual mayor of San Francisco Willie Brown during the mid-1990s.

Lahren’s tweet drew pushback from even her Fox News colleagues — including Fox Nation host Britt McHenry, who is no stranger to controversial takes. (McHenry once said the only reason Jemele Hill had a show on ESPN was because Hill was black.)

McHenry tweeted to Lahren, “Do you have any idea how damaging this is to women who’ve actually been sexually harassed, assaulted or demeaned in the workplace? How much this weakens our own gender, regardless of partisanship. My goodness.”

McHenry, by the way, recently claimed she was sexually harassed by a co-worker: an ex-pro wrestler named Tyrus.

Fox News meteorologist Janice Dean called Lahren’s tweet “pretty disgusting” and added that if a male had said what Lahren did, he would be suspended on the way to the human resources department.

Initially Lahren didn’t back down. In fact, she sent out two more tweets defending and doubling-down on her comments. But, eventually, Lahren tweeted, “I apologize for my comment on Kamala’s personal relationship. It was the wrong choice of words. There are many other things to take her to task for and I will stick to those.”

 

Viewership higher for Round 2


Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

As expected, TV viewership for Wednesday’s second night of this week’s Democratic president debates was up over Tuesday’s first night. I guessed that would be the case with front-runner Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who squared off in the first round of debates, appearing on Wednesday. CNN’s Brian Stelter reports that Wednesday’s debate averaged about 10.7 million viewers on regular TV. Tuesday’s debate drew 8.7 million. If you add streaming numbers, about 11.3 million watched Wednesday.

The first debates last month on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo had much higher TV numbers with 15.3 million on the first night and 18.1 on the second.

 

Make no mistake. (Believe me, we try)

How do typos and grammar mistakes get into newspapers? First, allow me this: No one is bothered more by a misspelled name or out-of-place comma than the writer who wrote the piece, followed by the editor who edited it (Editor’s note: Amen). A misspelled name or a grammar mistake or, worst of all, a wrong fact, literally makes  writers sick to their stomachs and ruins their days.

So how do these mistakes get into the paper? John Cutter, the Orlando Sentinel’s director of content for operations and standards, has part one of a two-part column trying to explain how errors, seemingly, have gotten worse over the years. Mistakes are more common than they used to be and this sentence from Cutter best explains why:

“This began to change between 2005 to 2010, when newspapers, including this one, reduced staff to cut expenses and turned more attention to the web. Among the deepest cuts were to the copy desk.”

 

And I-eeeee-I … will always love her


Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

I have America’s next big podcast. This fall Jad Abumrad and WNYC Studios will launch a nine-part podcast series about country legend Dolly Parton called “Dolly Parton’s America.” More details are coming soon. Dolly can sing it, say it, write it, whisper it or send it out in Morse code. Whatever .. count me in.

 

Hot type


Kool-Aid Man in 2013. Oh, yeah? OH YEAH! (Rene Macura/Ap Images for Kool-Aid)

  • OH YEAH! Kool-Aid responds to Sen. Cory Booker bringing up the drink during Wednesday night’s Democratic debates.
  • “Why did you leave me?” “PBS NewsHour” has court filings that reveal new details about family separation at the border.
  • Austin Tice’s parents wrote an open letter for The Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership’s August newsletter ahead of the seven-year anniversary of the journalist’s capture. Tice was working as a freelance journalist for McClatchy, The Washington Post and CBS, among other outlets, when he was abducted Aug. 14, 2012 in Syria.
  • The New York Times’ Richard Fausset goes to Warroad, Minnesota, to write about the death of a newspaper after 121 years.
  • ESPN’s Mike Kessler and Mark Fainaru-Wada have an “Outside the Lines” investigation that took 18 months about a track coach and former Olympian accused of abusing 41 men over four decades.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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