The Times' Big Jim

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Did you hear the news? The Los Angeles Times is going to reinvent itself again -- a little bit anyway. The editor decreed it will be so, after listening to something called the Reinvent Committee.

Jim O'Shea has been editor in chief of California's largest newspaper for almost a year. He got the job when a new publisher sent from Chicago orchestrated a clash with the staff's popular leader, Dean Baquet.

Baquet refused to issue the order to fire dozens of reporters and editors. So out he went, and in came O'Shea.

He was never going to be editor of the Chicago Tribune, where he worked for many years. But the suits in the Midwest figured he was good enough for the L.A. Times.

O'Shea took care of the layoff business his bosses wanted and moved on.

Now he's got a plan to save the newspaper from the ravages of the Internet and declining reader interest in the Times' way of doing things.

For me, as a reader and observer of the paper, and the lead role the Times plays in the local media, what happens there matters. So O'Shea's ideas are worth looking at.

Some are interesting, if not especially innovative. One step he wants is shorter stories. It's a reasonable request, if done right.

A well written story can convey a lot of detail and meaning in a relatively brief number of words. A badly written piece can be flabby and pointless at any length.

Readers used to consuming their news online do want sharper, faster writing. But to his credit, O'Shea noted there will be exceptions.

Readers still expect the Times to be able to uncork a Pulitzer worthy investigation every year or so. Some subjects demand deeper probing, and O'Shea vows to keep doing that.

He's a solid journalist himself, but that nod to doing selected long stories was probably necessary to head off a stampede out of the newsroom. There are still some reporters left from when the Los Angeles Times was known nationally for the depth and narrative stylings of its writers.

Hard to believe today, but the Times used to think of itself as a daily magazine. Writers were often hired for their prose talents over their reporting chops.

That's not so true these days. Most of the hires I've reported on recently at L.A. Observed have been of young journalists, some not that long out of school.

O'Shea also wants to make the newspaper's decisions and the makeup of the staff less mysterious.

His memo to the staff said, "that perceptions of media bias and arrogance are directly tied to our insular culture."

So he will impose some very modest steps, including putting more information about reporters online and starting a blog where readers can interact with the person on staff deemed to be the readers' representative.

She has the forlorn task of listening to complaints and trying to mollify readers without making news herself by saying something that incites the paper's critics or the blogs.

And blogs are a big part of the new Times that O'Shea envisions. The paper is about to launch a new blog on driving, and one from its reporters on the ground in the Middle East. Another, on living green in L.A., is called "Emerald City."

One target of the newly re-focused focus will of course be Hollywood. The Times' most visited blog in September was the one that covered the Emmys. It beat out pages on politics -- and murder -- and the Lakers.

So you can expect non-stop coverage to begin soon on the run-up to the Oscars -- that's next year's Oscars.

O'Shea ended his communiqué on the future with assurances that his ideas would lead to better days for the newspaper.

I for one want to believe him. Los Angeles needs the Times to be better. I just don't have any reason to believe that he can foresee the future.
For KCRW, I'm Kevin Roderick and this has been LA Observed.