Axes continue to fall at the Los Angeles Times, a still-great paper but one that's looking more and more like a mash-up of USA Today and The Orange County Register. The resignation of editor Dean Baquet stole the thunder from new publisher David Hiller's announcement earlier this week that he knows how to save the Times: get more Mexican readers.
Except Hiller doesn't call them Mexican, or even the PC term Latino. He calls them Hispanic. Strike uno.
But Hiller insists Hispanics are his Hail Mary. In the above memo, he tells Times staffers that "there is widespread agreement we need a stronger overall Hispanic strategy" and goes on to mention the struggles at Tribune's (the Times' corporate papi) free Spanish-language tabloid, Hoy. He then talks about "better defining our strategy in The Times for reaching the English speaking Hispanic audience."
Even in announcing the hiring of a new editor, Hiller mentions his spic strategy. But what exactly will this strategy entail? LAObserved's Kevin Roderick thinks it might be bilingualism, but I doubt it. Rather, look for a large-scale affirmative action program on the level of the Times' much-vaunted Latino Initiative program in 1998. For those of you not nerdy enough to know, it was a paper-wide effort to do what Hiller will probably propose: hire more Latino writers while making everyone else write more stories about Latinos whether they're deserving or not. "Considering Latinos make up 40 percent of the population in Greater Los Angeles," a press release from the Times boasts, "it's a no-brainer to figure out the 'why' behind this action." The Latino Initiative obviously failed, 'cause here we are again.
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Hiller--some words of advice from someone who has read the Times since the days of Malamud and Murray and occasionally writes for it: Latinos will never save your paper if you continue to hack away at the Times' foundation of investigative journalism and wonderful writing. English-speaking Hispanic audiences are no different from English-speaking gabacho audiences. They want good stories; damn the subject or the author (unless there are pictures of sexy chicas, of course).
I don't read most Latino-themed magazines because the writing is horrific; I read your paper's sports section religiously (despite the lack of Latino-themed stories or bylines) because the writing in that section sings. Following the orders of your Chicago overlords to cut back on staff will just alienate more Latino readers--at least the ones that read the Times for something more than the Lakers' box score.
If you insist on making changes: Promote OC bureau writer Jennifer Delson, whose coverage of SanTana is mexcellente. Free Agustín Gurza from his prison in Calendar and give him back his old Ruben Salazar-esque column, which combined compassionate writing with a Latino-centric focus. And, for chrissakes, find a copy editor who knows how to put accent marks and tildes over Spanish words!
But seriously: if you want Latino readers, you'll take care of your paper by taking care of reporters. Great reporters find great Latino stories even if they're super-gabachos. Adopting a full-scale strategy to reach out to an ethnic group reeks of The Orange County Register, and the Times is so much better than that...for now.