L.A. Times Charts Promising Online Growth — But Where’s the Money?

The L.A. Times has charted bigger traffic gains than its rivals, but those increases have not prevented further cutbacks

The Los Angeles Times’ recent plight has been well documented, but there does appear to be some light on the horizon.

According to ComScore, the L.A. Times' online traffic has surged 23 percent the past year, with especially encouraging growth the past five months: The website has drawn upwards of 16 million unique visitors in every month since and including March.

To compare, from July last year through February, the site averaged 13.4 million unique visitors a month. The peak during this most recent stretch was in May, when the site attracted 18.4 million unique visitors. That was the month of Osama bin Laden’s death, and also when the paper broke the news of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s love child.

“What makes it solid is the fact that it’s not a fluke,” online chief Jimmy Orr told TheWrap. “It’s months after months after months. We’re not relying on the news cycle or singular news events.”

Also read: L.A. Times Cuts Veteran Writers Tim Rutten, Mark Heisler, Jerry Crowe

In both a staff memo and an interview with TheWrap, Orr credited “increasingly aggressive online reporting, posting stories earlier and more frequently, innovations in storytelling and presentation, and the most compelling content online.”

The L.A. Times “is finally learning what makes the web the web, and different from print,” Ken Doctor, a news industry analyst, told TheWrap. “So it's taken a number of smart steps beyond repurposing, and adopted techniques well-used by other fast growers like the Huffington Post.”

However, traffic still lags behind the New York Times online. The New York Times, in spite of its recently-erected paywall, remains the most-visited newspaper site — and it is not even close. Its 32.4 million unique visitors in July were more than what the USA Today or Wall Street Journal drew in June and July combined.

Analysts say the L.A. Times traffic boost does not indicate all that much when it comes to revenue. “It’s a positive thing, but it’s not going to translate to the bottom line,” said Leo Kulp, an analyst with Citigroup.

Indeed, the online traffic spike has not helped the L.A. Times enough to prevent another round of layoffs. Late last month, it cut several veteran writers, including Mark Heisler and Tim Rutten.