Chicago Does L.A.

Avid newspaper readers were left in the lurch, and not just because of the Times' retrenchment. Earlier in 1992, Copley Newspapers stopped publishing the San Diego Tribune and folded it into the San Diego Union. "San Diego lost two-thirds of its news reporters and a lot of journalistic energy just as the city was getting more complex and difficult to fathom in many ways. So San Diego began the year with three newspapers, then ended the year with one," Perry said, recalling 1992. "I don't think the combined product," he said, referring to the San Diego Union-Tribune, "is as good as the two separate products. I don't see how one beats two."

Fears of another round of downsizing troubles some Los Angeles Times employees in the wake of the merger announcement. "The concern in Orange County is whether the Tribune Company will shut down the Orange County edition and make it a bureau or give the Orange County Register a real challenge," said Deanne Brandon, night city editor for the edition, which competes with the Register. "My sense is the Chicago Tribune is pretty aggressive about covering the outlying areas of Chicago. On the other hand, they may have never gone against a rival as scrappy as the Orange County Register."

Gil Reza, a Times reporter in Orange County who had previously worked for the San Diego edition, said he is counting on management's assurances there will be no changes for at least a year. "We've got to believe that. It wouldn't make sense for the Tribune to come in, gut the staff, hurt the quality of the paper, and damage the paper's circulation and credibility," Reza said. "What gives me a lot of comfort is the people who run the Tribune are journalists. They aren't just a wealthy family living off the dividends."

Herb Schnall, a Times Mirror book-publishing executive now retired in Rancho Santa Fe, said two developments signaled to him the Chandler heirs would relinquish control of the newspaper that had made them rich, famous, and powerful.

First was the 1995 appointment of Mark Willes as Times Mirror's chief executive officer because "he was a nonpublishing person," Schnall said. Hired away from General Mills, Willes was dubbed "the cereal killer" by Times staffers who were alarmed by his talk of destroying the wall separating the newspaper's advertising and editorial departments. The second, less visible warning, Schnall said, was lack of family involvement in the newspaper. "With no Chandlers in management or operations, I felt they would eventually sell the company."

As far as Chandler knows, only a few relatives work for Times Mirror -- children of at least two of his cousins -- and they're not in management, he stressed. "I don't keep a list. Two of my sons worked there, but not anymore." Of his 17 grandchildren, ranging from ages 2 to 22, none have expressed an interest in journalism, Chandler said. The lack of hands-on involvement in Times Mirror's daily operations doesn't reflect the family doesn't care about the Los Angeles Times, he said.

"The main thing is insuring a stronger future," Chandler said, noting the Tribune Company's television stations, book publishing, and Internet holdings make it a more diverse media force. "If I didn't think it was a good move, I would have said so publicly. It will take me a while to get over the sale of the family jewels, yes, but the Tribune Company is the best home we could find for Times Mirror today.... It's the second-most profitable newspaper chain next to Gannett."

What makes the two companies "a good fit," from Tribune Company's viewpoint, is Times Mirror's newspaper ownership in some cities where the Tribune has television stations. A pioneer of the new "multimedia journalism," Tribune Company creates what it calls "synergy" by pooling resources of its print and broadcast properties. Some Chicago Tribune reporters, for example, are required to contribute to news programs of WGN-TV in Chicago.

Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Berry got a taste of being a "multimediaist" five years ago, when he worked for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Company newspaper. On several occasions Berry participated in broadcasts for Central Florida News 13, the company's 24-hour cable-TV station. One benefit of summarizing his articles on the air, Berry said, was he got more feedback and news tips from the public.

"I'm not really concerned about cutbacks in staff," Berry said, recalling that the Tribune Company doesn't have a history of gutting its acquisitions. "I'm more concerned about this concept of reporters as 'content providers,' what that really means, and how it's going to play out in our day-to-day judgments about what's news. I hope I never see the day where I'll be evaluated on how many stories I do that are suitable for television."

Although the Tribune Company's stodginess and focus on financial stewardship contrast with the greater creativity and liberalism of the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Michael Real, director of San Diego State University's School of Communications, said he doesn't expect a bombastic clash of cultures. Both the Times and the Chicago Tribune are mainstream newspapers, he said, but both started with conservative, ideological roots. "Big media has become much more homogenized. This is a reflection of what's happening nationally in all kinds of ways, in all kinds of industries," Real said. "Is there a real diversity of opinion when you have not only a one-newspaper town, but also a newspaper owned by people not even in that town?"

Following news of the Tribune Company-Times Mirror merger, Copley family members reiterated their intention of keeping the San Diego Union-Tribune locally owned. During the 1980s, the Tribune Company was rumored to be eyeing the Copleys' publishing business as a potential acquisition. Since then, the Tribune Company has purchased KSWB-TV in San Diego.

Chandler said he thinks it's "wonderful" the San Diego Union-Tribune has remained independent, but the temptation to sell could grow. "These offers dangled in front of owners is almost obscene today," Chandler said, referring to the Tribune Company's agreement to pay more than twice the market value for Times Mirror. (Chandler's remarks at Point Loma Nazarene University will be broadcast by UCSD's cable station on Sunday, April 9, at 8:00 p.m.; Monday, April 10, at 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.; and Sunday, April 16, at 11:00 p.m.)

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