I just flew into town and picked up the LA Times today, and boy, are my arms not tired.
I had to check the calendar – yup, today is December 22. Three days before Christmas.
The "paper" – for I will accord it the dignity of that name until it finally goes down and the last red bubble bursts over its final resting place at the bottom of an ocean of red ink – was a mere shadow of its former self. The "California" section today ran six pages; the Business section was four pages. Four pages! Three days before Christmas!
Advertising? What advertising?
Today’s LA Times was the emaciated corpse of print journalism, once full-bodied and hale, now reduced to a wraith, a skeleton of such little substance that it seemed to weigh nothing.
Serendipitously, the headline on the "Column One" story at the top left of the front page – the in-depth feature the Times runs on a regular basis – reads, "VHS era is winding down" – a story about another once-thriving medium that is breathing its last.
Wow, I thought, as I rubbed my fingers together through the meager Business section, so this is how it ends: not with a bang but a whimper, a pre-Christmas edition that has a grand total of 52 editorial pages: 24 for the front section, six for California, four for Business, 12 for Sports (thank god for the NFL), and six for the once-a-week "Health" section that runs on Mondays.
Fifty-two pages. I can remember many an issue when the front section alone had that many pages, and had to be split into two runs. I can remember in the 1980s when I was a religious reader of the LA Times, when it was hungry to be taken seriously; when it had David Shaw, whose position as the Times’ conscience was inaugurated in 1974, at the zenith of print journalism in this country; when Jim Murray owned the sports page.
Alas, those days are gone forever. Jonah Goldberg now graces the Times’ op-ed pages, and the business section isn’t even big enough to wrap anything bigger than a gourami.
I work in commercial real estate. The company I work for owns, among other things, shopping centers. As with newspapers, whose advertising revenues peak this time of year, a huge proportion of our retail tenants’ income comes in during the Christmas season. A tenant who has barely been scraping by will often hang in until just after Christmas, in order to rake in as much cash as possible before calling it quits and closing up shop.
Retail sales this Christmas season have been awful. I fear that after January 1, the marginal tenants, the ones who have been holding on the past several months hoping – hoping desperately - that Christmas will save them - will pack it in, disappearing in the middle of the night, leaving nothing but a picked-clean shell and a lease with two years left to run.
And if today’s sad edition of the LA Times is any indication, print journalism might well very soon share a similar fate.