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Gene Roberts and Tom Kunkel

They are authors of the new book, Leaving Readers Behind: The Age of Corporate Newspapering (University of Arkansas Press.) The book examines how newspaper reporting is being altered by the buying, selling, and consolidation of papers. In the book, they say the age of corporate newspapering is bringing about –a change that is diminishing the amount of real news available to the consumer.— Thomas Kunkel is dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland and president of American Journalism Review. Gene Roberts, longtime executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and former managing editor of the New York Times, is a professor of journalism at the college.

21:48

Other segments from the episode on June 14, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 14, 2001: Interview with Gene Roberts and Tom Kunkel; Interview with Dennis McDougal.

Transcript

DATE June 14, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Gene Roberts and Tom Kunkel talk about changes in the
newspaper industry
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guests, Gene Roberts and Tom Kunkel, say that the American newspaper
industry is in the middle of the most momentous change in its 300-year
history; a change that is diminishing the amount of real news available to the
consumer. This is the result of the corporatization of the industry, which is
culminating in a blitz of buying, selling and consolidating of newspapers from
the mightiest dailies to the humblest weeklies. The pressure to increase
profits is affecting what stories get covered and how they get covered.
Roberts and Kunkel are the editors of the new book "Leaving Readers Behind:
The Age of Corporate Newspapering."

Roberts is the former executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, former
managing editor of The New York Times and is now a professor at the University
of Maryland College of Journalism.

Tom Kunkel is the dean of the College of Journalism, the publisher of the
American Journalism Review and former deputy managing editor of the San Jose
Mercury News.

One of the current newspaper trends is clustering, where one company buys
several papers in one region. This can cut down on publishing costs, allow
the consolidation of management and cut down on staff through pooled reporting.
For example, one reporter might cover state politics for several different
papers. I asked Kunkel if this type of pool coverage is becoming typical.

Dean TOM KUNKEL (College of Journalism, University of Maryland): It is
typical and it may mean, in some cases, that a company might actually bring
more resources to, say, state government coverage. But more typically what
happens is that it has the effect of reducing the number of reporters, say, at
a statehouse. If you look at a state like New Jersey, for instance, two
companies, the Newhouse company and the Gannett company, now own, between
them, 14 of the 19 or so newspapers in the state. They have, between them, 75
percent of the daily circulation in the state. Now, you know, whatever you
think about those two companies, you know, when you have this situation where
fewer companies operate more newspapers, they consider that they don't need as
many people to cover the statehouse or to cover a sports franchise or
whatever. And so you end up with fewer people on the ground, typically, and,
therefore, the reader suffers because he doesn't have as much coverage at his
or her disposal.

GROSS: Well, but maybe it's not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe, like, the
best of the reporters are the ones covering sports and state politics now, so
even the readers and the more mediocre papers will have the advantage of, you
know, the best reporter on the beat. What would be wrong with that?

Dean KUNKEL: Well, in that event--I mean, that's fine to have better people
doing that, but, in general, you know, without talking about the specific
qualities of an individual involved, in general, we're talking about
situations where competition gets reduced and there are fewer people on the
ground. And so the odds are that what happens is that certain stories don't
get covered. It may be that one or two people are doing a very good job
covering certain stories, but maybe 10 years ago there were six or eight
people trying to cover the same stories, so more stories got written. There
was more competition. There was more of an effort to develop sources there.

Professor GENE ROBERTS (College of Journalism, University of Maryland): And
better localization of the news.

Dean KUNKEL: Right.

GROSS: What do you mean by that?

Prof. ROBERTS: Typically in, say, a state legislature, a bill will have
widespread affect. And if you're localizing the coverage of it, the writer
will explain exactly how this proposed legislation would affect the writer's
hometown newspaper and, thus, the readers; and the news is thereby closer to
the readers, makes more sense to them and has more application to their
lives. And when newspapers start setting up their own mini wire services,
they essentially end up duplicating the Associated Press and other wire
services, as opposed to writing specifically for their readers in their area
of circulation.

GROSS: Are there new types of corporations that are getting into the
newspaper business that are buying up newspapers without any experience
running newspapers?

Dean KUNKEL: Yes. In fact, that's one of the things that we document in our
series that I think a lot of people even in the business didn't realize; that
two of the biggest newspaper chains that today exist, five years ago did not
exist. These were sort of instant chains, as you will; business interests
that decided they wanted to go into newspapers and started buying up
properties around the country. Now there's nothing wrong with that, but
these are interests that really have no experience or expertise in newspapers
and so it sort of makes you wonder what their motivations are. Well, in
fact, we know that their motivations are financial. And, again, there's
nothing wrong with that, except that they don't have any real experience, in
terms of what quality newspaper content means; why it's important.

GROSS: Are there more bottom-line pressures now than in the past? Gene
Roberts, I'd be interested in your opinion of that, you know, as former
executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, former managing editor of The
New York Times. You've been in the newspaper business a long time. What are
the bottom-line pressures now, compared to, say, the '80s?

Prof. ROBERTS: More and more newspaper corporations are now publicly held;
that is, they're stock corporations and many are traded on Wall Street. And
this brings pressure from analysts, if they want to keep their stock price
up. And now newspaper chains own more than 75 percent of all the 1,500 daily
newspapers in America. And most of those corporations are public.

GROSS: Do you think editors are being asked to do things that they weren't
asked to do in the past because of financial pressures to cut costs and
increase circulation?

Dean KUNKEL: They definitely are and, in fact, a lot of them have left
because they reached the point where they realized that they're no longer
doing the things that they loved; why they got in the business, which is to
say, journalism. And they spend, virtually, all their time, you know, over
spreadsheets trying to make decisions about how many pages to cut out of the
news hole because they're over budget or how many positions they have to leave
open in their newsroom or lose because they're being pressed to, you know,
bring their expenses down. And, increasingly, they're frustrated because it
doesn't take that much of a spur in the economy to trigger those sorts of
reactions from their corporate bosses. So it's a very frustrating situation
for editors. They're in a very difficult place today.

GROSS: I know that there's a lot of pressure on editors now to make budget
cuts and even to cut certain coverage in the newspaper in an attempt to save
money. Is there also pressure to boost certain aspects of the coverage in the
belief that boosting that coverage would help increase circulation?

Prof. ROBERTS: In general, there's a belief that sports coverage helps and
business coverage helps. And I don't question that and I think the one upside
of the trends we're talking about today is that sports and business sections
in most American newspapers have gotten better. But in many cases, rather
than put fresh money into this, they simply cut it out of other areas of news
coverage, so you have a general diminishment of coverage.

In some towns--there's one Maryland town, in particular, I'm thinking
of--news cutbacks have been so serious that in this town the reporter--the
police reporter can no longer find the time to go to the police station to
get the news. So the newspaper put a fax machine in the police station and
the police now decide what news coverage you're going to get out of the
police department. And they select the stories and put them on the fax
machine. And if there's one that they find embarrassing or so forth, then
this is the price you have to pay for this kind of budget cut.

GROSS: Why was the police reporter too busy to actually go to police
headquarters and report on the police?

Prof. ROBERTS: Because he was covering all the surrounding counties. They
had gotten rid of other newspaper reporters and put all the burden on this
one reporter. And he, literally, was so busy making phone calls to so many
coverage areas he had responsibility for that he just didn't have time to get
in his car and go to the police station.

GROSS: Gene Roberts, is the profit margin at newspapers expected to be
higher now than it was in the past? Does that have to do with the pressure
to make more money now or is it just that circulation's down, so it's harder
to make money?

Prof. ROBERTS: No. It's distinct pressure for higher profits. And they're
already among the highest of any American industry. Last year, for example,
the typical public newspaper company made almost 22 percent operating profit.
That is, of every dollar that goes on into the cash register, the company
hangs on to 22 cents. The auto companies in America don't make even a fifth
as much, in terms of operating profits, as newspapers do.

GROSS: So, in your estimation, some of the owners of newspapers have
unreasonable profit expectations?

Prof. ROBERTS: Yes, and especially in economic downturns. Newspapers are
extremely sensitive to the economy because if people aren't buying, then
merchants aren't advertising, and because advertising makes up a big
percentage of the revenue, this creates a problem for newspapers and,
increasingly, rather than just settle for, say, 19-percent operating profit,
as opposed to 22 percent, what they do is cut back space and cut back
manpower in newsrooms. And, suddenly, the reader is getting a diminished
newspaper.

Dean KUNKEL: You know, many newspapers have used this current bit of trouble
to, for instance, kill their local Sunday news--their local Sunday magazine.
There now are fewer than 20, maybe only a dozen or so, newspapers in the
country that have their own Sunday supplement. I mean, that's terrible. I
mean, survey after survey, you know, readers say they really like their Sunday
magazines, but because the companies look at them as cost centers unto
themselves, you know, they make very inviting targets when times get a little
tough. And so they knife them, but that's another piece of the paper that the
consumers like that they don't have anymore. And, you know, it's just
incredibly short-sighted.

GROSS: If newspapers run at such a high profit margin--Gene Roberts, you were
saying 22 percent--why would a newspaper want to sell?

Dean KUNKEL: Because they make those kind of profit margins, they have been
getting record offers for the papers from people who want to buy them. And,
in many cases, especially cases where the papers are locally owned, you--this
may be the fourth generation or the fifth generation of that family that owns
the paper, so you have a lot of cousins, a lot of ownership interest that
have been, frankly--they may not be quite so interested in the operation of
the paper anymore and they're interested in cashing out. And there's never
been a better time to cash out because the papers are going for such
tremendously high multiples right now. And so there's just too much money at
stake.

GROSS: My guests are Tom Kunkel and Gene Roberts, editors of the new book
"Leaving Readers Behind: The Age of Corporate Newspapering." We'll talk more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Tom Kunkel and Gene Roberts,
editors of the new book "Leaving Readers Behind: The Age of Corporate
Newspapering." And this book is a result of their project--the project on the
state of the American newspaper.

Let's look at the newspapers that you used to work at and see how they're
doing now. Gene Roberts, you were the executive editor of the Philadelphia
Inquirer. You left there in 1990. How many years had you been in that
position?

Prof. ROBERTS: I had been in it 18 years.

GROSS: And you left because of budget cuts?

Prof. ROBERTS: That, I would say, was the principal reason; not just budget
cuts, but the general climate. In general, every year for about five years
in succession, it had gotten tougher and tougher to negotiate a reasonable
budget for the newsroom and it finally reached the point that they didn't want
to discuss what the budget of the newsroom would be. They simply wanted to
figure out how much profit they wanted to make and give you a certain
percentage of that profit. And it was almost totally by the numbers and was
not a result of a meaningful discussion about what the paper ought to be
doing.

GROSS: One of the things you were known for when you were the editor at the
Inquirer was the investigative pieces and the number of Pulitzer Prizes that
those pieces won. I think there were--What?--17 Pulitzer Prizes during your
years as executive editor?

Prof. ROBERTS: Yes, that's correct.

GROSS: And this is for a paper that had never won a Pulitzer before you got
there. Correct me if I'm wrong. So investigative pieces tend to cost a lot
of money because you have one or more reporters--usually more than
one--working on a story for a long period of time without being able to
publish until the investigation is through. Were you kind of forced to cut
down on investigative work because of bottom-line concerns?

Prof. ROBERTS: I had not at the time I left, but if the trend had continued,
I would have been forced to do that. And I think a good newspaper just simply
has to have complicated news stories in it at times, like investigative
stories. If not, what you're telling the reader is, `We cover the easy news.
If it's expensive or hard to get, then we don't cover that.' And that is no
way to run a newspaper.

GROSS: Tom Kunkel, you were deputy managing editor at the San Jose Mercury
News. Where there bottom-line pressures on you in that position?

Dean KUNKEL: Yeah. It's a wonderful paper and it was a wonderful paper when
I was there and I enjoyed working there, but one of the reasons I left was
exactly the sorts of things that Gene is talking about. And, in fact, it was
about the same time. This was the first time after a record run-up out in San
Jose that in the early '90s were--the paper was really forced to have to sort
of look at its spending, to cut back on staff, on space, on travel, on things
like that. It was not something they were accustomed to doing. I had had to
do it at other places, so, unfortunately, I was pretty good at it. But it's
sort of a soul-draining, dispiriting exercise because you have so much pride
and talent in a place like that that nobody wants to do a worse job. I mean,
you want to do these things but still keep the paper as good as it is and so,
you know, you end up putting these enormous demands on yourself and your
reporters and your editors trying to do just as good a job with less space,
less time and fewer people. And it's exhausting.

GROSS: One of the things that has changed for newspaper readers is that they
don't rely on newspapers for breaking news in the way that they once did. You
get the breaking news a lot quicker on radio and TV, particularly now with the
proliferation of all-news TV stations, as well as radio stations. How do you
think that needs to be addressed by newspapers? Do you think that newspapers
have to redefine their mission and focus on maybe a deeper version of the news
instead of covering just the breaking aspect of the news?

Prof. ROBERTS: Yeah. I think detail is very important because on television
you just get the surface, the quick in-and-out, and people will go to
newspapers for more detail, more nuance. And, unfortunately, given the
current attitudes on newspapers, detail takes space and takes manpower to
supply. And the very things that make a newspaper special are among the
first things to go in a budget crunch. And it's quite disturbing, I think,
for the future of newspapers and for society, as well.

GROSS: Something else that has changed recently for newspapers is Web sites.
A lot of newspapers have invested a lot of money in having good Web sites,
both for the daily paper, for the archives of the paper and for supplements to
the daily paper or additional breaking news stories as they happen. But a lot
of things on the Internet aren't panning out the way people expected. At this
point, are most newspapers losing money or making money or gaining readers
through the Web sites? How are newspapers thinking about their investments in
their Web sites now?

Dean KUNKEL: Well, they're still trying to sort out whether they think online
is their enemy or their friend, their future or their demise. But I think,
for the most part, they realize that it's a wonderful opportunity. And, in
fact, the current shakeout of the dot-com industry at large has been a boon to
newspapers, because newspapers have the local franchise and they have the
financial backing to hang in there and to get people who do get their news
online accustomed to going to their site to find out what's going on. So it
can be--we think it can be a very good thing for newspapers if they recognize
it as a tool.

But it is just that. It's a tool. It's almost less important whether--you
know, what the delivery method of a story is. What's more important is what's
in the story itself. So, you know, tomorrow you're going to be able to get a
story online or in your paper or whatever. And some people, you know, are
going to prefer one method over the other. But what's important is that the
story be there.

GROSS: I think there's been a lot of kind of fear about the new media; like,
will they hurt or will they harm the existing media? Do you think that the
new media is adding a lot of pressure to reporters? Are reporters having to
take on putting material on the Internet in addition to their
responsibilities reporting for the newspaper?

Dean KUNKEL: Yeah.

GROSS: Are reporters--yeah, go ahead.

Dean KUNKEL: Yes. It does put a lot of pressure on them and a lot of them
are worried about it. I mean, many reporters appreciate that online is a
wonderful opportunity, in a sense. But on the other hand, what you're asking
them to do--for instance, whoever was covering the execution of Timothy
McVeigh, which was 8:00 on the East Coast, I mean, they had to file instantly
for their online operations and that's fine, but this--you know, and then they
would have to file updates. And these are the kinds of things that they
didn't used to have to do. And I think a lot of reporters are feeling rather
pressed that they have--to meet the demands of online, they don't have the
time to really dig into the story the way they might like.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both very much for talking with us.

Dean KUNKEL: Our pleasure.

Prof. ROBERTS: Well, thank you.

GROSS: Tom Kunkel and Gene Roberts are the editors of "Leaving Readers
Behind."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Credits)

GROSS: Coming up, the history of the Los Angeles Times and the family that
owned it through most of the 20th century. We talk with former Times reporter
Dennis McDougal, author of a new book about the paper.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Dennis McDougal talks about the history of the LA Times
and the Chandler family that owned it for over 100 years
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The Los Angeles Times is one of the best newspapers in America, but it used to
be widely acknowledged as one of the worst. News anchor Chet Huntley once
joked that he always read the Los Angeles Times and knew he could be
reasonable accurate by going 180 degrees in the other direction. My guest
Dennis McDougal is the author of a new book about the history of the Times and
the Chandler family that owned it for over 100 years. The book focuses on the
paper's fourth publisher, Otis Chandler, who turned the paper around. The
book is called "Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the LA
Times Dynasty." McDougal was a reporter at the Times from 1981 to '92, a
period at the paper, he describes as nirvana for journalists. I asked
McDougal to describe the Los Angeles Times politics in its early years.

Mr. DENNIS McDOUGAL (Author): The Los Angeles Times was a right wing, right
of Attila the Hun, Republican rag throughout most of its history. It was
founded back in the 1880s and quickly fell into the hands of Otis Chandler's
great-grandfather, General Harrison Otis, who started out, interestingly
enough, as sort of a union firebrand when he was a typesetter back in Ohio,
prior to the Civil War. But by the time he got to California in the 1880s he
became this virulent anti-union, call it, firebrand, and his newspaper
reflected that voice. He turned the Los Angeles Times, in the space of a few
years, into the preeminent newspaper in the United States for management in
what turned out to be basically a national civil war between labor and
management throughout the first couple of decades of the 20th century.

GROSS: What were some of the other issues that the LA Times supported?

Mr. McDOUGAL: Well, it became a rah-rah sheet for Southern California. It
was, for many years, for better than half a century, the Los Angeles Times
published what it called its Mid-Winter Edition(ph), which came out every
January and was put on the trains and sent back to the East Coast and the
Midwest for the express purpose of hyping the climate and the agriculture and
the palm trees and the blue skies, the wonderful, wonderful Eden on Earth that
Los Angeles was believed to have been in the first half of the 20th century.
And that was expressly to bring people to the West Coast so that they would
buy real estate, much of which was owned by Otis Chandler's grandfather, Harry
Chandler.

GROSS: What were some of the holdings that the family had?

Mr. McDOUGAL: I guess at one time it was well in excess of one and a half
million acres. This would have been probably in the teens and the early '20s.
But Harry Chandler was this fabulous character who literally out-Hearsted
William Randolph Hurst; began building real estate syndicates to buy up large
swaths of land in Southern California in the early part of the 20th century.
The best-known of which, of course, was the San Fernando Valley. The basis of
the motion picture "Chinatown" rests on the legacy of Harry Chandler. And, in
fact, the John Houston character in "Chinatown" is patterned after Harry
Chandler. The Chandlers owned a huge ranch that straddled the Mexican border
between Baja, California, some 860,000 acres. It was so large and so
productive, from an agricultural standpoint, that in the late teens and early
'20s of the 20th century, it was the largest producer of cotton in the world.

And his biggest holding that, up until a few years ago, remained in the hands
of the Chandler family, is still the largest undeveloped piece of
privately-held property in Southern California. It's called the Tone
Ranch(ph), and it's between Los Angeles and Bakersfield. It's a huge property
that also just happens to be the place where the California aqueduct pumps its
water into Los Angeles.

GROSS: You write for most of the 20th century the LA Times and its publishers
dictated Southern California politics. How did the paper use its political
muscle?

Mr. McDOUGAL: Well, all the way back to General Harrison Otis' time, which
was roughly 1880 until his death in 1917, the Times was judged to be the house
organ of the California Republican Party. It came down to what's good for
business in Southern California, not necessarily what's good for the people
but how do we make the booming economy boom even more? How do we make the
growing population burgeon beyond its limits? So any kind of political policy
that favored the development of real estate, the increase of water resources,
or any kind of resources, transportation, anything that would make Southern
California an attractive place for an Easterner to finally set down roots and
become part of the economy, that became the policy promulgated by the Los
Angeles Times.

GROSS: My guest is Dennis McDougal, author of "Privileged Son." It's a
history of the Los Angeles Times and the Chandler family, which owned it for
over 100 years. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Dennis McDougal, author of "Privileged Son: Otis Chandler
and the Rise and Fall of the Los Angeles Times Dynasty." Let's use Richard
Nixon as an example of a candidate who the LA Times backed when he started his
political career. He first ran as a Republican candidate in a Democratic
congressional district in 1946. Why did the Times support Nixon then?

Mr. McDOUGAL: Well, Richard Nixon had a well-know godfather named Murray
Chotner(ph), and it was Chotner who advised Nixon to get the support of all
the newspapers that published in the targeted Democratic congressional seat
that he was seeking. And the Los Angeles Times, of course, had the largest
circulation. He went to the Times and met with Norman Chandler and his chief
political correspondent, a fellow named Kyle Palmer(ph), who was regarded as
being the kingmaker in California at the time. And they liked what they saw:
An ambitious young man, a World War II veteran, who was virulently anti-labor
and pro-business. And they backed him 110 percent.

GROSS: Yeah, you say that the paper wrote fawning headlines in spite of
Nixon's smear tactics in his campaign. Do you remember any of the headlines?

Mr. McDOUGAL: Oh, gosh, not off the top of my head. I mean, it was
supposedly Kyle Palmer who came up with the idea of labeling Helen Gahagan
Douglas `The Pink Lady.' And she was the Democratic state senator who ran
against Nixon for California's Senate seat in 1950. And he soundly trounced
her; again, with the help of the Los Angeles Times. If you were a Democrat
you simply did not exist. It was almost a Stalinist approach to partisan
politics. If you were anything other than a Republican, you deserved no ink
whatsoever in the Los Angeles Times.

GROSS: What role did the Los Angeles Times play, if any, in Nixon's
nomination to the vice presidency in 1952.

Mr. McDOUGAL: By that time Norman Chandler, the third in the line of
Chandlers--or Otises and Chandlers, was the publisher of the Los Angeles
Times. And he had married a young department store heiress from Long Beach;
Dorothy Buthum(ph) was her maiden name. And she became Dorothy Buthum
Chandler. And it was Dorothy, in 1952, who probably more so than either
Norman Chandler, her husband, or Kyle Palmer, the political editor of the Los
Angeles Times, who championed for Richard Nixon as the vice presidential
candidate at the convention in Chicago. She actually went to a publisher of a
Chicago newspaper and asked him to plant stories, speculative stories on the
front page, about this young senator from California as being a dark horse
candidate for the vice presidency so that she could increase his chances of
becoming Eisenhower's running mate.

GROSS: Yeah, the year that Richard Nixon ran for the presidency is the same
year that Otis Chandler took over the Los Angeles Times. And it was Chandler
who basically ended the Times' reputation for being a right-wing paper.
Chandler was the fourth publisher of the Times. He was 32 when he took it
over in 1960. What were the first steps that he made in the direction of
having a paper that wasn't a political mouthpiece?

Mr. McDOUGAL: Otis was a cipher. He came out of nowhere and everyone
automatically assumed, because he looked like the Southern California golden
boy--his appearance was that of a no-nothing surfer dude--that he was just
going to be a reflection--probably a poor reflection--of his lackluster
father, Norman, and that it was just going to be business as usual at the Los
Angeles Time.

And they were in for a big surprise because the very first thing that Otis
Chandler and his very talented editor, Nick Williams(ph), did was commission a
five-part series on the John Birch Society, which unmasked the--I mean, we
forget about it now, but back in the late '50s, the John Birch Society was a
power to be reckoned with. It was a right-wing group that believed that, you
know, there was a Communist under every rock. And Otis very courageously
commissioned this five-part series, and then wrote a front-page editorial,
signed editorial, saying that the John Birch Society should be uprooted and
run out of the country.

Now what makes that particularly courageous is the fact that Otis Chandler's
aunt and uncle, Norman Chandler's brother and sister-in-law, were leaders of
the John Birch Society in Southern California. So he was actually, at that
point, going against the family. A short time after that Philip Chandler, who
was a ranking member of the board of trustees of the company that owned the
Times, resigned in disgrace and died a few years after that. But he
also--that is Otis also planted the seeds for rancor that would eventually
lead to his own demise as publisher of the Times.

GROSS: Well, when Otis Chandler took over the paper, how did the coverage of
Richard Nixon change in the LA Times?

Mr. McDOUGAL: Well, actually it's kind of funny because, you know, Otis took
over as publisher and basically what he did was instruct Nick Williams, his
editor and all of Nick's subordinates, to begin covering both sides of the
news. That meant covering both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.
That meant covering the negative side of the candidate as well as the positive
side of the candidate. And Richard Nixon, who had been born and bred
throughout his political life on the notion of always getting positive press
in the Los Angeles Times, was in for a rude awakening. Because what happened
then from his loss to John Kennedy, until his loss of the California
gubernatorial election to Pat Brown two years later, was that the Los Angeles
Times began reporting his gaffes.

When he made some sweeping statistical statement about California and some
negative statement about his opponent, the reporter would actually go to the
opponent and say, `Is that true?' This was astonishing. Nixon had never run
into this before. And, I mean, he felt betrayed. So in 1962 when he ran for
the California governorship against Pat Brown and he lost, he staged his
famous press conference in which he told the gathered members of the fourth
estate that they wouldn't have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore. And he
specifically--Dorothy Chandler pointed this out years later--he specifically
was aiming his comments towards the Los Angeles Times.

GROSS: Did he ever try to do anything to retaliate against the Times?

Mr. McDOUGAL: I mean, for the next several years--of course, he went into
semi-seclusion and began planning for his resurrection which, of course,
happened in 1968. But Nixon, of course, never forgot and when an opportunity
presented itself, he did what he could to get back at the Chandlers, and Otis
in particular.

On a recently-released tape from the Nixon tape archives, there is a
conversation between Nixon and H.R. Haldeman about Otis Chandler, who at the
time lived in the very upscale suburb of San Marino, and how all of Otis
Chandler's servants were Mexican. And, as Nixon unceremoniously put it in his
unguarded speech in the Oval Office, they were `wetbacks.' And he said
that these people could be shipped back to Mexico with ease if he could turn
the INS loose on them. And he just reveled in the idea of doing that and
embarrassing Otis Chandler as much as possible.

GROSS: My guest is Dennis McDougal, author of "Privileged Son," the history
of the Los Angeles Times and the Chandler family, which owned it for over 100
years. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: My guest is Dennis McDougal, author of "Privileged Son: Otis Chandler
and the Rise and Fall of the LA Times Dynasty." If you're just joining us, my
guest is Dennis McDougal. His new book is called "Privileged Son: Otis
Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the LA Times Dynasty."

But when Otis Chandler took over the Times, what were some of the changes he
made in addition to insisting on more politically-fair coverage.

Mr. McDOUGAL: Well, again, you have to remember that the Los Angeles times,
even though it was a Republican rag, was easily, at the time that Otis took
over, the richest newspaper in the United States, or fast approaching it. It
had more advertising linage than any other newspaper. There was money galore
but it was not being put back into the newspaper. And that was what Otis
began to initiate the second that he took over. He opened foreign bureaus all
over the world. I mean, he patterned the Los Angeles Times, in many respects,
after The New York Times, which he greatly respected, and which he regarded as
his chief competition. He also opened national bureaus in every major city in
the United States. He beefed up the Washington bureau such that it was at
least as competitive and had as many bodies typing away in it as The New York
Times.

And his whole attitude was, `We have this revenue-producing sheet that goes
out to people and apparently they liked it enough to subscribe to it in
droves. Now we're going to turn this into a top-notch newspaper. It's going
to be literary. It's going to have the best journalists that money can buy.'
And that's exactly what he did. He went out and hired away the best people
that he could from the East Coast journalism establishment.

GROSS: When and why did Otis Chandler step down from his position as
publisher of the Times?

Mr. McDOUGAL: Well, Otis stepped down in 1986 officially. This is something
that's still difficult for him to talk about. I spent a wrenching afternoon
with him near the end of our interviews when I was trying to pull the
information out of him. You know, it had been reported elsewhere that
something had gone one that he did not leave at his own volition. And he's
always maintained all these years that that's exactly what he did; that he'd
put in 25 good years at the Los Angeles Times and that it was time for him to
move one. But he did this when he was still in his 50s and still had many
good years ahead of him.

GROSS: Why was Otis Chandler pushed out of the LA Times?

Mr. McDOUGAL: Otis planted the seeds of his demise in 1960 when he published
the five-part series on the John Birch Society. It alienated not only his
aunt and uncle, but several other members of his family. In fact, the
majority of his cousins thought that he had begun turning the Los Angeles
Times to the left. His hiring of liberal icons like cartoonist Paul Conrad
and the editorial page editor Anthony Day(ph), really turned off the members
of the Chandler family, who silently sat in the background, but collected
their corporate dividends on a regular basis and sat on the board of directors
of the Times Mirror Company. And by the early 1980s, when he began to recede
from the paper, his marriage had broken up in 1980 and he remarried and began
to go on more and more vacations. It was the right time for the other side of
the Chandler family to strike and take back the newspaper. That's basically
what happened.

There was a somewhat convoluted, for want of a better term, palace coup, in
1985, when the chief executive officer of Times Mirror, Robert Erburu(ph) sent
a group of trustees from the Times Mirror board to Otis' office and told him
that his time was up. Otis went out to dinner that night and wept over a
bottle of wine about what had happened to him, but, basically, he understood
or believed that he was powerless to do anything about it. So with good grace
he went ahead and accepted it, the decision of the board, and stepped down as
chairman of the Times Mirror Company and pretty much walked away from the
newspaper. I mean, he was still on the board of directors, but his voice
became more and more that of a dissident as the years passed and the paper
moved in a different direction.

GROSS: Well, Dennis McDougal, I want to thank you very much for talking with
us.

Mr. McDOUGAL: Well, thank you for having me, Terry.

GROSS: Dennis McDougal is the author of the new book "Privileged Son: Otis
Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the LA Times Dynasty." Last year the LA
Times was sold to the Chicago Tribune Company.

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR we'll hear from Laurie Pepper, who's produced a new box
set by her late husband, saxophonist Art Pepper. It's called "Art Pepper:
The Hollywood All-Star Sessions." We'll close with a track from it.

(Credits)

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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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