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The Times, Tribune and the city

September 19, 2006

On Sept. 12, 20 Los Angeles civic leaders sent a letter to Tribune Co., owners of the Los Angeles Times. The letter, signed by former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and other prominent citizens, warned that continued cuts and staff reductions were threatening to erode the quality of journalism at The Times. The letter called on the company and its stockholders "to resist economic pressures to make additional cuts." On Monday, Tribune's chairman, Dennis J. FitzSimons, sent a response defending Tribune Co.'s stewardship of the paper since it was purchased from the Chandler family in 2000. Both letters are reprinted below.


'Cuts would harm the paper and...our region'

September 12, 2006

Dear Mr. FitzSimons and Members of the Board of Directors:

We are writing to urge the Tribune Company to continue to keep the Los Angeles Times a vibrant paper of local, state, national and international importance, and to resist economic pressures to make additional cuts which could remove it from the top ranks of American journalism. As civic leaders in Los Angeles, we are particularly concerned about the effect that such cuts could have on our community.

During the second half of the 20th century, the Times lifted itself to become a paper of national and even global stature. Many observers consider it one of the five most important daily papers in the country. To some extent, that record of success has continued under Tribune ownership, as evidenced by the numerous Pulitzer Prizes it has earned during the past few years. We hope -- but we are concerned -- that the paper will continue to improve and to build on that record.

We are keenly aware that the newspaper business is going through a difficult period, and we don't want to be unrealistic. Nevertheless, we have watched with concern as our newspaper has repeatedly reduced the size of its staff, cut the space given to news and declined in circulation. It puts matters into perspective, but is of little comfort, to know that such cuts are taking place elsewhere as well.

Of course, we expect nothing less than tight cost management from any company, but only up to a point. Newspapers, in our view, have a special public trust, a responsibility to serve the community while making a reasonable profit. Since it was acquired by the Tribune Company in 2000, the Times newsroom staff has been cut by at least 200 journalists; the amount of space devoted to news has been substantially reduced by over 70 pages per week, and the business side has been cut dramatically. A couple of years ago, the company reported that it had cut $130 million out of yearly operating costs at the paper -- and there have been additional cuts since then.

Recently, we have read that Tribune plans to cut $200 million more from its newspapers. We fear that the Times may be in the process of making additional cuts -- which will make the paper markedly less valuable to its readers, its advertisers and our community.

All newspapers serve an important civic role, but as a community voice in the metropolitan region, the Los Angeles Times is irreplaceable. We are not quite sure this is fully understood by those outside our community. The Los Angeles Times has a unique ability and responsibility to unify as well as educate what is a very geographically fractured and otherwise extraordinarily diverse community.

At various times many of us have met with Los Angeles Times representatives to urge more thorough and consistent coverage of the Greater Los Angeles community. We have been assured that the Times was most committed in this regard, as well as committed to remaining one of the nation's great newspapers. But we remain concerned.

What is required here for our region to function well is more -- not less -- news coverage, particularly of the civic, political and cultural life of the region. The Los Angeles Times simply cannot be allowed to shrink to the point that it becomes just another newspaper. We are not structured like many traditional cities where influence may be more centralized, but rather operate within a complex network of business, government, community and philanthropic organizations and individuals. The civic education of this unusually diverse community is every bit as important as the traditional K-12 and higher education of our children in fostering the health and welfare of the region.

For all of these reasons, we strongly urge the Tribune Company to make an even larger investment in the Times and to resist the financial pressures to make cuts that would harm the paper and, in the process, harm our region. If, on the other hand, the Tribune Company believes this is not economically feasible given its own financial goals, perhaps a different mode of ownership would better serve Los Angeles.

Many of us would be pleased to meet with you to discuss these concerns more directly if you believe that would be helpful.

All organizations listed below are for identification purposes only.

Edward J. Avila


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