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Los Angeles Times: Resting on journalism’s charred laurels

Written By | Jan 20, 2018

WASHINGTON, January 20, 2018.: The conspirators called it “the machine,” leaving the item in the narrow alley separating the Los Angeles Times newspaper offices from its printing facility. It was a satchel containing sixteen sticks of dynamite wired to a timer.

Los Angeles Times

Shortly after 1 a.m. on October 1, 1910, an explosion tore off one side of the Los Angeles Times building, rupturing nearby natural gas lines, triggering a fire.

The majority of the 21 men who died that morning, perished in the flames and not the blast. They died at the hands of labor organizer J.B. McNamara, who believed the bomb would convince the inflexible L.A. Times owner Harrison Gray Otis (“Employers of labor should be ready to meet and vanquish those who make unreasonable and arrogant demands upon them”) to reconsider allowing his workforce to unionize.

Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times founder Harrison Gray Otis.

The newspaper’s managing editor called the union activists “enemies of industrial freedom.”

Los Angeles Times

James (left) and John McNamara.

Bomber McNamara and his co-conspirator brother were arrested the following year and represented at trial by renowned criminal defense attorney Clarence Darrow. They were convicted but, thanks to Darrow’s jury bribes, spared the death penalty.

Los Angeles Times

Criminal defense attorney Clarence Darrow.

Needless to say, the L.A. Times was never a friendly venue for union organizers while the descendants of Harrison Gray Otis owned the newspaper.

But in 2007, those descendants, the Chandler family, watching the L.A. Times and Tribune Company stock prices fall, sold the media conglomerate to real estate magnate Sam Zell.

Los Angeles Times

Sam Zell.

He told business channel CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo,

“I don’t come in believing in current wisdom, and, therefore, I can look at the challenge as a completely empty canvas. That puts me in a unique position.”

As the Chicago Tribune later noted, Zell made the newspaper’s financial troubles “significantly worse by the unusual $8.2 billion deal put together… by Mr. Zell, which took the company private and nearly tripled its debt load, driving the company deeper into debt than any other newspaper publisher.”

Los Angeles Times

Facing interest payments of more than $900 million, Zell was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy… one year after taking control of the print giants.

The L.A. Times has since become the property of parent company Tronc Inc., who saw its $404.5 million revenue in 2016 drop to $369.8 million in 2017.

As if to add an exclamation point to its waning strength, Times newsroom employees recently voted 248 to 44 and joined the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America; a second explosion to the one union thugs John and James McNamara set off 107 years ago.

An irony no doubt lost on the oblivious editors and reporters whose shiny newsroom rests on the charred remains of their journalistic forerunners.

Los Angeles Times

The body of a Los Angeles Times employee is recovered after the bombing of 1910.

The author worked at the Los Angeles Times from 1979 to 1992.

Steven M. Lopez

Originally from Los Angeles, Steven M. Lopez has been in the news business for more than thirty years. He made his way around the country: Arizona, the Bay Area and now resides in South Florida.