“We need to resist the temptation to take sides in the current news environment,” Scott Kraft, managing editor of the Los Angeles Times told Pacific Council members. “We need to maintain our values.” These were Kraft’s parting words to a delegation visiting the LA Times headquarters in El Segundo last week.
Kraft, a Pacific Council member himself, was one of six speakers representing different departments at the city’s lead daily newspaper, well into its second century reporting local, national, and international news. Delegates also heard from Sue Horton, Op-Ed Editor; Mitchell Landsberg, Foreign Editor and Acting National Editor; Kimi Yoshino, Senior Deputy Managing Editor, and Sewell Chan, Deputy Managing Editor. The visit included a tour and history presentation by Darrell Kunitomi.
A recurring theme throughout the afternoon was the LA Times’ laser focus on modernizing and digitalizing their content to keep up with the changing information landscape. Chan, who recently joined the LA Times staff from The New York Times, is helping the paper get a handle on the economics of the news industry today.
New ownership of the paper, under Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, has “given us reason to think strategically about the future and to be excited for the future.”
“We cannot abandon print, but we must recognize it is not increasing,” he said. “The changes will continue. The LA Times is selling trust and credibility. We ask our readers to trust us, because we have 500 journalists who abide by a code of ethics and correct mistakes. As a paper, we are factual, orderly, and dignified.”
Within that context, Chan, who is also a Pacific Council member and will moderate a panel at the upcoming Global LA Summit, said the Times is thinking hard about channels of distribution for its content such as social media, YouTube, and Google. Beyond producing good journalism, he said media companies now need to become experts in search engine optimization and measuring reader engagement.
Yoshino admitted that the Times’ penetration in the LA metro area is low: from a pool of 10 million residents, they currently have 160,000 digital subscribers (more than 300,000 additional print subscribers have activated their digital accounts). Their goal is to increase to 300,000 digital-only subscribers by the end of 2019. But Yoshino said that new ownership of the paper, under Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, has “given us reason to think strategically about the future and to be excited for the future.”
Given the ability for readers to access news from a variety of sources at lightning speed, Mitchell Landsberg said his reporters are more focused on providing analytical pieces to explain current events, rather than trying to be the first to break daily news.
The Times is pursuing new and younger readers, evidenced by the recent launch of a reimagined Food section, the Times’ first free-standing weekly print food section in seven years. Yoshino said it’s meant to be “edgy, weird, youthful, and fun,” and is part of a broader effort of the Times “to maintain the same level of news and professionalism, while not taking ourselves too seriously,” she added.
Alongside the development of new content for new audiences, the Times has also made a strategic decision to focus on Pacific Rim coverage (Latin America and Asia) and has grown its staff in these regions under the leadership of Dr. Soon-Shiong, who spoke similarly about changes he hoped to usher in at the Times during his keynote remarks at PolicyWest 2018, the Council’s fall conference. Landsberg told delegates that staff in Asia recently grew from two staffers to five, with full-time international bureaus in Mexico City, Beijing, Seoul, Singapore, Beirut, Moscow, and part-time in Bogota. He also oversees a vast network of freelancers in other cities around the world.
Given the ability for readers to access news from a variety of sources at lightning speed, Landsberg said his reporters are more focused on providing analytical pieces to explain current events, rather than trying to be the first to break daily news.
Sewell Chan said about one-third of America does not have access to high-quality local news, and he believes the LA Times can be a model for how local news can be valued again, in an age of misinformation and partisan bubbles.
As op-ed editor, Horton’s strategy pulls in a mix of local, state, national, and international topics and perspectives. Though the LA Times has fewer regular columnists than The New York Times or Washington Post, Horton is proud of the Times’ penchant for distinct voices that always bring something new to the paper.
Kraft noted that the paper has grown its coverage of issues like the environment and immigration, which are global issues that resonate with local readers. He said the paper is committed to “accountability reporting” (investigative journalism), and as they begin to ramp up coverage of the 2020 presidential campaign, the LA Times will focus on covering the California vote, which is expected to play an important role in the primaries.
Chan made a unique point toward the end of the conversation about “news deserts,” or areas in the country with a lack of high-quality local news. He said about one-third of America does not have access to high-quality local news, and he believes the LA Times can be a model for how local news can be valued again, in an age of misinformation and partisan bubbles.
Chan said his move from New York to LA was inspired in part by knowing that one can get a “glimpse of America’s future in California.”
Marissa Moran is the Chief Communications Officer at the Pacific Council on International Policy.
The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.