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July 26, 2008

L.A. Times is Circling the Drain

This might be a little too inside baseball, but the ongoing self-destruction of the L.A. Times is too much to pass up. Yesterday morning, staffers protesting management's plan to cut 250 jobs by the end of the summer hung a gigantic banner entitled "Zell Hell: Take Back the Los Angeles Times" from the parking garage. The job cuts are blamed on the relatively newish owner, Sam Zell, who is desperately trying to reduce costs in the face of falling circulation.

As if that wasn't enough high school drama, the perpetrators (L.A. Times staffers who refer to themselves as "the oppressed") posted an angsty manifesto explaining why they did it. I've reposted it in its entirety below the fold so you can enjoy the heartfelt adolescent tropes as much as I did. I especially liked "we see nothing but malaise, dread, fear." Also, I wonder if this might be contributing to Zell's problems: "we spend more time reading blogs and departure emails than researching, writing and editing news stories."

"But what if I get caught?" "You're already caught. Better ask yourself---what if you get free?"

This little tidbit, found on the margins of a book about resistance, fits like a glove, doesn't it? We’re all already caught. If we still have our jobs, we've lost the joy and the pride we used to have in our workplace. We hear our co-workers, our friends, lament, say goodbye. We see them with sleep-deprived eyes, cleaning their desks "just in case" or clearing their desks because they are going. We spend more time reading blogs and departure emails than researching, writing and editing news stories. The building is sick. From the security desk to the publisher’s office, we see nothing but malaise, dread, fear.

We're already caught.

So we figured we had nothing to lose. Our jobs? Those might not be here tomorrow, anyway. Our reputation? Please. Our freedom? Let's not go that far. We gambled that if we were seen, our bosses would rather hush us out of the building than create even more attention.

We're already caught.

Do we think this will make a difference? Most certainly not. Except to tell others that we're resisting. Like you, we didn't expect that a paper could be dismantled so quickly. If Zell has his way, by the end the year, the LA Times will be nothing but fluff. By the end of the year, fresh out of jobs, we don’t want to be thinking "I should have done something".

So we did something. A little something. It was really fun, actually. Resistance almost always is. We learned new skills, like sewing, and used some rusty old ones. We did our best not to get caught, and we were happy that someone took pictures before some smiling security guard found the wire cutters.

They were smiling, by the way. They too see people walk out with boxes, people they've known for years. They too fear for their jobs, and they too wish for the old days, when the paper was owned by someone who cared about journalism.

If someone comes tapping on our shoulders this afternoon, it will have been worth it. We were already caught, so better ask ourselves---what if we get free?

And then they all went off to cut themselves and paint their fingernails black. Honestly, if this is what he has to put up with, I am totally on Zell's side.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 08:23 PM

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