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Crossing the Line

A Los Angeles Times Profit-Sharing Arrangement With Staples Center Fuels a Firestorm of Protest in the Newsroom--and a Debate About Journalistic Ethics

December 20, 1999|DAVID SHAW | Times Staff Writer

This story was reported and written by David Shaw, the Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning media critic, and edited by George Cotliar, former managing editor of the Times, who retired in 1997. To preserve the independence of the story, no one else at the paper was permitted to see it before it was published except for an executive news editor, who handled production of the section. All three were selected by Cotliar and Shaw. None of the principals in the story-- not even the editor of the paper, the publisher or the CEO of the paper's parent company-- read it or had any say in its content, scope or presentation.



Contributions to this Special Report:

* Executive News Editor: Steve Mitchell

* Copy Chief: Mike Castelvecchi

* Copy Editor: Larry Harnisch

* Graphics Editor: Chris Erskine

* Graphics Artist: Helene Webb

* Production Editor: David Rickley

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday December 27, 1999 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Investment conference--Participants in the Philadelphia Inquirer investment conference are selected by members of the paper's newsroom staff but, contrary to what was reported in The Times last Monday, they are invited by Morningstar, the co-sponsor of the conference.

* Research: Jacci Cenacveira

* Photo Editor: Calvin Hom


A Chronology on the Road to ... Controversy and Confrontation

Dec. 17, 1998: Founding partner agreement between Times and Staples Center is signed.

Early to mid-March 1999: Discussions on whether to devote full issue of Los Angeles Times Magazine to Staples Center opening; all editors directly involved are opposed.

Late March: Decision is made to devote full issue of Los Angeles Times Magazine to Staples Center.

May 19: Kickoff rally for advertising staff; two editors, Staples officials present.

Aug. 3: Representatives of host committee for Democratic National Convention meet with Mark Willes, CEO of Times Mirror, and Kathryn Downing, publisher of The Times. Possibility of sharing profits on a Times special section or issue of the Times magazine is proposed.

Aug. 5: Lucy McCoy, president of host committee, sends letter to Willes outlining proposal for Times/Times Mirror participation, including sharing profits on a "special section."

Sept. 3: Maryanne McNellis writes back on behalf of The Times, suggesting further discussion on profit sharing and other elements of McCoy proposal.

Sept. 14: Meeting of Times senior vice presidents at which Editor Michael Parks thinks he first learned of profit-sharing arrangement on Staples Center issue.

Sept. 14-17: Printing begins on cover, centerfold of Times magazine.

Sept. 17-20: Several other Times editors learn of profit-sharing arrangement.

Sept. 20: Top Times editors, advertising executives met to discuss possibility of special section or Sunday magazine devoted to Democratic National Convention; Parks and John McKeon, senior vice president for advertising, both oppose an editorial section or magazine, but no final decision is made.

Sept. 21-26: Bulk of Times magazine on Staples Center is printed.

Oct. 4: Parks, top Times business executives meet to discuss special section or magazine for Democratic National Convention; Parks again strongly opposes, leaving thinking host committee will be told no editorial section or magazine will be done.

Oct. 10: Staples Center issue of Los Angeles Times Magazine is published.

Oct. 11: Los Angeles Business Journal prints story quoting a Staples Center executive as referring to the magazine as a "joint venture" between The Times and Staples Center.

Oct. 14: Representatives of Times convention host committee meet, continue discussions. Participants disagree on what was said.

Oct. 15: Parks changes Times style to drop "the" from preceding "Staples Center."

Oct. 21: New Times newspaper makes first published mention of profit-sharing on L.A. Times Magazine.

Oct. 26: New York Times publishes story on profit-sharing, says L.A. Times had discussed "similar venture" for Democratic Convention.

Oct. 27: Wall Street Journal publishes story on profit-sharing; Parks' top subordinates question him; petitions circulate demanding an apology from Downing.

Oct. 28: Downing meets in Times cafeteria with angry reporters and editors, pledges reforms.

Nov. 3: Otis Chandler statement is read aloud in Times newsroom; Parks agrees to authorize story examining the Staples Center controversy and related events.

Dec. 19: Times publishes statement of principles.

Stock Soars

Wall Street is much happier with Mark Willes than are reporters and editors at The L.A. Times. The stock price for the paper's parent company, Times Mirror, has risen dramatically since Willes became chairman and CEO.

Times Mirror Stock Price:

Day Willes started, June 1, 1995: $23.25

High during Willes reign, Nov. 1, 1999: $72.62

Friday's closing price: $66.87

Editors' Choices

Nation's top papers, according to a poll of editors:


Rank Paper Name Votes 1. The New York Times 101 2. The Washington Post 85 3. The wall Street Journal 84 4. Los Angeles Times 81 5. The Dallas Morning News 66 6. Chicago Tribune 60 (tie) 6. The Boston Globe 60 (tie) 8. San Jose Mercury News 54 9. St. Petersburg Times 51 10. The Sun (Baltimore) 46


Source: Columbia Journalism Review

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