Death By 1,000 Cuts & Tweets

dog_snarlingA state media insider tells the BlueDog that the Los Angeles Times has issued an edict to cut down the length of its front-page news stories. The new policy mandates that no A1 news story shall run more 28 or so column issues — a cut from the previous maximum length of 35 column inches.

This is a 20 percent cut, and is in keeping with a business goal of achieving a 50-50 balance of advertisements and news. Page A3 — the showcase for California and Capitol news — is a meager shadow of its former self. Consider the Thursday, May 7 edition, which contains just one article and a weather photo.

The Times has always considered itself a national paper — a claim increasingly suspect given erosion of interest in state news. Some speculate the short shrift stems from the fact the Times’ top two editors are alumni of its business page, which has now replaced the once robust California section’s mix of local and state news as the B-section of the newspaper.  With that shift, news from the state Capitol, matters of public policy, politics or state issues of import are now crammed into the A-section. Meanwhile California goes to hell. 

This internal news from the Times is hardly earthshaking. But it’s a another disconcerting symbol — not only of the amazing shrinking newspaper, but the anorexia Californians (leading the nation again) seem to have when it comes to substance in its media and information diet.  

Earlier this year, the Sacramento Bee eliminated its Monday morning commentary page, which now runs print advertisements opposite editorials. The op-ed is evolving into the ad-ed.  There is just something unseemly about this, even if it is sincerely designed to stanch the bleeding. 

The once derided USA Today even looks robust against the inevitable trend toward morsels of democratized, digital media. We are now compressing sound bites into nano bites; decentralizing news from established sources to random blogs (yes, even fairly credible ones like this one), Twittering “tweet”communiques maxing out just over 100 characters (not words or inches).  Against this benchmark, the 28 column inches in the Times is a veritable encyclopedia that warrants continued reverence. But the ink continues to ooze quietly from the newspaper industry like a shaving nick that refuses to coagulate. And we’re running out of band aids.

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