THE LIFE AND TIMES OF LOS ANGELES: A Newspaper, a Family, and a City by Marshall Berges

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF LOS ANGELES: A Newspaper, a Family, and a City

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Unabashedly, a tribute to today's Los Angeles Times and its ownership/leadership by ""a member of the. . . family""--effusive, at times florid, but not entirely platitudinous. Berges' theme: ""Once the private preserve of Harrison Gray Otis, the Times of the late twentieth century is a newspaper where the one dominant voice is quality. In an ironic thrust across the years of dynasty, the extraordinary emphasis on quality has come from Otis Chandler, great-grandson of the man who practiced tyranny from the top."" But, says Berges, some ""long-distance observers"" are still suspicious--given not only the paper's pro-business, right-wing past, but the Chandlers' connection with the undying water-rights controversy. In the first half, a loose chronicle of how the torch was passed from Harrison Gray Otis (1882-1917) to son-in-law Harry Chandler (1917-1944) to son Norman (1944-1960) to son Otis (1960+), Berges depicts HGO as a curmudgeon, stresses the ""good nature"" of his successors, and tries to defuse the water-steal charge by citing a 1981 study tracing it to a single, hothead reformer. The editorial shift under Otis Chandler--or ""process of shucking the image""--does bring amusing word of Richard Nixon: ""invented by the paper,"" ""stunned"" at its non-support in the 1963 California gubernatorial race (""Years after, Buff""--Mrs. Norman C.--""recalled the evening""); canceling his subscription the day after that ""You-won't-have-Nixon-to-kick-around-any-more"" outburst (aimed at them, Times-folk thought). The book's second half--""A New Newspaper,"" ""Working at the Times""--recounts efforts ""to strengthen the quality of the Times."" There's a good deal of self-congratulatory, journalism-school pap (about ""credibility and responsibility,"" ""sharper writing and more critical editing""); but there are also occasional meatier bits--the review of media critic David Shaw's touchy work (ethical issues, in-house objections), Robert Scheer's account of how a ""Berkeley radical"" freelancer found happiness at the Times. Anyone with a serious interest in journalistic history will have to consult Robert Gottlieb and Irene Wolt's Thinking Big (1977), as well as David Halberstam, for the whole, unvarnished story; still, Berges does convey what a good paper thinks it should be doing--and a few concrete examples thereof.

Pub Date: March 20th, 1984
Publisher: Atheneum