The L.A. Times announced Thursday that breaking news was going to have to take a hit in its print edition because of the closure of an Orange County printing plant.
That’s bad enough — late-breaking news will be relegated to a back section and 80 more people will lose their jobs. But that’s not the full story.
The full scoop is that the Times has sold the late-night print run to the Wall Street Journal.
The paper’s publisher Eddy Hartenstein struck the deal with News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch to print the Wall Street Journal’s west coast edition in the plant instead, a spokesperson confirmed.
According to two well-placed individuals, the decision to close the Orange County plant means that the Journal will take up the late print run on the Times’ one remaining plant.
That in turn has meant sacrificing news for the L.A. Times front page. The front page will now close at 6 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. and midnight, as has been the case until now.
Late-breaking news will go into a new supplement section.
Asked about the plant closing and print runs, Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan said, "We do print the WSJ west coast edition, but — like I said — it would not be at all accurate to say that changes announced today are based on accommodating that."
Others within the newsroom disputed this view, saying the issue came up Thursday when editor Russ Stanton explained the changes to various section heads. They said that effectively, the Times is giving up the ability to have live news on its front page so that it can print the Journal’s live news.
Both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal will now feature fresher news on their front pages than the L.A. Times — a reality that has some newsroom insiders livid.
It’s fine to print the Wall Street Journal to make some extra money, said one such person. “But they shouldn’t prostitute themselves to do it.”
Said another insider: “People are pretty furious. Someone described it as the tail wagging the dog. It’s like they’re building a factory to make cars that have steering wheels on both sides. So you ask, ‘What about this extra one?’ And the answer is, ‘Well, the passenger won’t mind.’ This is being done not for the reader, it’s being done to save money.”
The deal to print the Journal has been under discussion by Hartenstein and Murdoch — who know each other from Hartenstein’s stint at DirectTV — for some time. The paper already delivers the Journal. And the additional cash it represents apparently required the Times to allow a print run to accommodate the Journal’s late-breaking news.
Had the Times gotten the contract to print the Orange County Register, the printing plant there might not have had to close, and the issue could have been avoided.
None of this was evident in Hartenstein’s announcement on Thursday that late-breaking news would move from the front page to a new section.
In his memo to the staff, Hartenstein spun the decision as part of measures aimed at “streamlining” the paper, with no mention of how this might impact the effectiveness of the paper to report the news.
“In an effort to further streamline our operations and reduce print production costs, we have embarked on an ambitious plan to print the Times in one main location,” he wrote. “To do so, we are completing a significant investment in our Olympic production facility — making it state-of-the-art, increasing color capacity and allowing us to shut down the Orange County presses. We’re creating substantial savings and presenting the printed version of the Times in a new, innovative manner.”
Another 80 employees will lose their jobs from the plant closing, and the paper will get skinnier by four inches (44” from 48”).