Which is more interesting?
1. In Niger, nomads with battered Soviet-era weapons are fighting the army to control the uranium under the soil.Another pair:
— or —
2. Israel is moving to “shore up” pensions.
1. Radicals are protesting at the university of Athens in the wake of a 15-year-old being shot and killed.How about:
— or —
2. A power struggle inside Somalia’s government “grew worse Sunday.”
1. “Somalia’s president fires prime minister but may not have the authority to do so.”
— or —
2. The above-mentioned story about a Somalian power struggle growing worse.
1. The British Prime minister is trying to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attack.
— or —
2. Samir Geaga, a former Lebanese warlord who spent 11 years in prison, says he's "a changed man."
In each of the pairs above, No. 1 is a leading story from today's world coverage in the New York Times. No. 2 is a leading story from today's world coverage in the Los Angeles Times. And, in each of the pairs above, it's clear that the Los Angeles Times has a serious problem.
Both papers carried the news that Bush had shoes thrown at him. (And, despite the fact that most of us saw it live online yesterday, it was reported in both papers with "first-day leads," meaning their angle was that it happened and not another spin that incorporates analysis or aftermath, making the papers look about as relevant and groundbreaking Ford's rollout of the 1990 Escort.)
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been writing about the German chancellor's opposition to a European economic rescue plan. Los Angeles Times readers today wouldn't know anything about that.
Worse, those lame Los Angeles Times story selections are more prominent in the paper than everything but front-page news. When you open today's Los Angeles Times, the first thing you see staring at you on Page 3 in big headline type is the news that Israel is shoring up pension plans.
The New York Times, conversely, starts most of its non-A1 international coverage on Page 6, after its "Monday Business" stories that are both relevant and interesting, including a story about how finance powerhouse Goldman Sachs is expected to report that its profits have dried up. (If you recall, this is the company in which superstar investor Warren Buffet recently invested billions just days before the stock started a freefall that has slashed the stock in half.)
Ever since the mid-1990s when I was a staff reporter and editor for the Los Angeles Times' community news division, I've watched in horror as the paper's bosses made one stupid decision after another. But business judgment and news judgment are two different things. True, all the lame story selections in today's LA Times may be caused by staff cutbacks. But if you have a reporter to cover Israeli pensions, couldn't you put that same reporter to better use?
The international story selection is so bad that the LA Times would actually do better to just follow every story of the New York paper. Every day, open up the New York Times, assign an LA Times reporter to every story the NY Times covered, and run it a day later. Day-late interesting stories are better than no interesting stories at all.
My biggest beef with the editorial direction of the Los Angeles Times is that the company has utterly failed to see the bottom-line benefits of community news coverage. I believe that rinky-dink community coverage, done cost-effectively, could have prevented what now seems an unstoppable exodus of readers. And I remember, back when the Tribune Co. took over the Los Angeles Times, there was talk that the new owners wanted to make the paper the New York Times of the West — the undisputed leader in national and international coverage. The people from Chicago didn't bother to ask what Los Angeles readers want. They were going to tell them what they wanted — high-brow world coverage — while killing community news sections at the same time. Then, they couldn't even deliver adequate world coverage, much less force it on a readership that clearly has a greater interest in entertainment-industry news and quality schools coverage.
There's an old "Simpsons" episode in which chronic wino Barney Gumble makes a documentary film about his alcoholism. The closing line: "Don't cry for me. I'm already dead." (Lest you think that the "Simpsons" were getting too serious, I mention that the film was titled "Puke-a-hontas.")
The last throes of the Los Angeles Times seem to echo Barney's plea. Yet, coming from them it's not funny.