"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
For much of the last decade, the management at the Los Angeles
Times had been content to guide the newspaper into irrelevance at
the same rate of decline as the rest of the newspaper industry. Then
Mark Willes got tired of the breakfast food business. Since signing on
to run the Times parent company in May of 1995, the former
General Mills boss has done all the things a ruthless businessman is
supposed to do. He cut jobs in box lots of 100, eliminated special
sections, reduced bureau staffing, and presumably started counting
paper clips. Among the most unfortunate casualties at the Times
was the weekly World Report section, which once ran some of the best
stuff in the paper - insightful, offbeat analysis and storytelling from
staff writers working overseas assignments. Still, the Times
fared better than Willes' other news ventures: The Baltimore
Sun's evening edition was put to sleep soon after Willes'
ascension, at the same time that the New York edition of Newsday
earned its nickname "the tabloid in a tutu" with a Rite of Spring
sacrifice. Surveying the damage Willes had inflicted on the news
reporting business, the Times/Mirror Group was left with no choice but
to reward him; he added the title of Times "publisher" to his
hatrack in 1997. Former Times staffers, however, had long since
awarded him his true titles: Cap'n Crunch, and the one that has stuck
to him with Trumpian tenacity: The Cereal Killer.
Some settling may have occurred, however, on the other side of the balance sheet. While dumping costly journalistic extras like reporters and news sections, Willes has also offered helpful suggestions for increasing revenues. One big priority: boosting circulation. Speaking to a reporter from The Wall Street Journal, the broadsheet salesman explained his approach to getting the untapped female demographic to part with its quarters by making the paper "more emotional, more personal, less analytical." A Willes proposal offered along the same lines, a special gals-only section, died following protests from the newsroom - but not before Times reporters leaked, to the crosstown New Times, the information that the proposed section had been tentatively titled Gee! Among the pieces brainstormed for the special section, the leakers added, was a graphic explaining the right way to fold a sheet. A similarly visionary proposal for a Latino-only section met a similar fate (reports that Willes had proposed Quien es mas macho? as the section's title later proved false). Describing the free-prize-in-every-box ideas, an unnamed Times editor called Willes "the Jerry Ford of publishers." She was being far too kind: Ford was harmless. Is anyone out there really unclear about why the once-solid Times Sunday magazine is looking more like Redbook with every issue?
Place of Residence: Los Angeles, CA
courtesy of the Sucksters