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JOURNALISTS AT LOSS FOR WORDS WHEN OWN RANKS ARE SLASHED.

Byline: MARIEL GARZA

Journalists fearlessly and shamelessly scrutinize every move made by the institutions, companies, politicians and celebrities we cover.

But when it comes to reporting the business of our own business, we suddenly transform into spineless wimps.

As a result, aside from the occasional tearing down of industry celebrities - such as The New York Times' Judith Miller or The Washington Post's Bob Woodward - not much about what goes on behind the key card- controlled doors of the nation's news organizations is reported on our own pages.

If we did report on it, there would have been a lot of banner headlines in recent weeks about the upheaval happening in the Los Angeles newspaper world, since it will affect millions of people either directly or indirectly.

Yet other than a few blips on the business pages, in individual columns and in the media-gossip blogs, there's been very little ink given to the troubles at two of Los Angeles' biggest newspapers.

The staff of The Los Angeles Times is suffering massive layoffs, buyouts, shutdowns and general unpleasantness wrought by its Chicago-based corporate owner.

Officially, 85 newsroom positions at the Times were lost through buyouts and layoffs, for a total of 300 companywide. It's shutting down its Chatsworth plant. Unofficially, insiders fear many more jobs will be lost through reshuffling, firings and attrition at the Times and its community newspapers.

The city's biggest alternative paper, L.A. Weekly, has spent some ink on the Times' woes. But its staff hasn't been so forthcoming on its own situation: the imminent demise of the Weekly as we know it, once its new owner takes over in the next few weeks.

The tabloid paper's parent company, Village Voice Media, was purchased by the company of its former rival, New Times Media. The combined company will have a circulation nationwide of 1.8 million. ``Alternative,'' indeed.

The editor of the Village Voice announced his resignation this week, and the Weekly's staffers don't know whether they will have a job by year's end.

What's worse is we may not even realize we have a problem with self- examination. At a gathering of local journalists last week, columnist Robert Scheer blasted the industry for its dearth of reporting on the events at the Times and the Weekly, as well as similar cuts and mergers in virtually every major U.S. city.

The legendary leftist L.A. writer was suddenly, and with little explanation, dumped by the Times last month. He became somewhat of the poster boy of troubles at the Times when his ardent fans agitated and staged a protest, with signs and everything.

Scheer came out of it unscathed; he still has a syndicated column and has just launched a Web site. But it didn't boost his faith in journalists, noting the endemic failure to publicly probe our own industry with as much zeal as we do all others and allowing the cutting of content for the sake of profits to continue with little outrage.

That may well be true. As an employee myself of a large media corporation (Denver-based MediaNews Group), I can empathize. The Daily News had its own newsroom depopulation years ago, and I wouldn't have wanted to have been the yahoo to question the authority that was considering cutting my position.

The Weekly and the Times are competitors of the Daily News, and therefore I can't help but admit to a tiny bit of schadenfreude, the unseemly taking of pleasure in other's misfortunes. But as an Angeleno and a regular reader of both, I have been avidly following the unfolding stories of mergers, circulation slumps, staff cuts, and out-of-work journalists, mostly through coffee-pot gossip and the media-centric online sites.

It's a story that's integral to the city that I love dearly. And it's a story that should be played out under the same bright light we shine on everyone and everything else.

Mariel Garza

mariel.garza(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 8, 2005
Words:656
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