The L.A. Times’ “Mission Statement”

Amplifying the Examiner piece (…thanks for the link, Glenn!), I’ll add some more comments on journalism as I dodge writing the hard post on Iraq that I really need to do this week.

The Los Angeles Times is going through some changes. I still haven’t resubscribed – for now I enjoy the extra half hour I get in the mornings to talk to my wife and son. But I do read parts of it online, and I do have an abiding interest in seeing it become successful, because I have an abiding interest in seeing my city be more successful, and good media – blogs, newspapers, television and radio stations – are one of the keys to making it so.

In light of this, the Times is changing its look, it’s editorial pages, and all kinds of other things. And they’ve published a manifesto of sorts. It’s a “Mission Statement” for their editorial pages.

And, to be honest, it’s a useless piece of fluff.

Let’s go through some of it. the opening sentence is a good place to start:

The Los Angeles Times is a citizen of the city of Los Angeles, the state of California, the American nation and the world.

No, you’re not. You keep using that word – citizenship – and I’m not sure you know what it means. You’re a citizen of the United States, with a supreme obligation to the polity assembled around it; you’re members of the Los Angeles and California communities, with obligations within those communities (and between them, and between them and the greater obligation to the national polity). You’re a human being, which means you share some ethical and emotional obligations with all other human beings – but you certainly can’t claim citizenship with them, because there is no worldwide polity for you both to be a citizen of.

On the editorial page, the newspaper sets aside its objective news-gathering role to join its readers in a dialogue about important issues of the day – to exhort, explain, deplore, mourn, applaud or champion, as the case may be.

Sounds good to me. There’s a discussion to have about the objective news-gathering part, but we’ll put it aside for now.

The editorial page strives to reflect the dynamism of Southern California. The region’s iconic status as global entertainment capital, its entrepreneurial spirit and its extraordinary cultural diversity are among its distinguishing strengths, and we believe that all Angelenos should have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams.

You need to get out of West LA and Silverlake more. Los Angeles is also still one of the aerospace capitals of the world, one of the real estate development capitals of the world, one of the garment industry capitals of the world, and one of the automotive capitals of the world. I’m sure there are four or five more industries that are equally central to the LA economy and deserve pride of place on your pages. You won’t get to hang with stars as much, but you might learn more about how the city actually works and how the people here live.

We demand accountability from the people’s representatives in government, promote the rule of law and support policies that encourage commerce and growth and that raise living standards in the region.

We’ll get back to this.

Freedom is our core value. We feel a special obligation to defend civil liberties and human rights. Because newspapers and other news media, uniquely among businesses, enjoy and rely on a provision of the Bill of Rights that protects freedom of the press, we assume an obligation to defend the rights of all citizens.

Including the right to self-defense? Sorry, that was kind of juvenile on my part…

We reject overreaching moves by public authorities to control the culture or private mores. Citizens’ right to privacy, to decide for themselves how best to lead their lives, is fundamental. It is in keeping with our Western roots to champion individual autonomy and the freedom of conscience.

Back to this one as well.

The United States has developed into one nation whose citizens are engaged in a common enterprise and are entitled to live under the same basic framework of laws and enjoy their equal protection. And much as the bonds linking Americans have grown stronger over time, so too have the bonds among nations in the global economy. We believe that lowering barriers to trade and communication will lead to greater freedom and prosperity for all.

Yes, as long as that prosperity is measured by a Pakistani brickmaker’s standards. The leveling of worldwide incomes is good news – except to the folks who are getting leveled down. It’s also inevitable. So to cheerlead for trade like this without some understanding of the real impacts – here in Los Angeles, which used to, for example, be a center of furniture manufacturing – seems naive.

At home and abroad, we believe that free markets are the best engines of prosperity. We are deeply skeptical of government attempts to subvert markets to engineer economic outcomes, though we also believe that a private economy requires a robust public infrastructure and a social safety net to prevent some members of society from falling prey to unconscionable levels of poverty and privation that corrode our democracy.

An abiding commitment to preserve the nation’s natural treasures is also is in keeping with our Western roots. Californians understand that there is a need for society and government to protect wilderness, balancing the interests of growth and conservation, and to regulate human activity to preserve the quality of our air and water for generations to come. The market may be the best arbiter of economic activity, but in pursuit of environmental and public health goals, state regulation must often encroach on private behavior.

The government engineers economic outcomes all the time, in tax policy, in fiscal policy, in accounting, banking, and other forms of regulation (in addition to the environmental regulations they cite). You may support minimizing regulation – although that’s not what we see here or have seen in the Times in the past – but to suggest that the markets and regulations are somehow separable – seems naive.

Engagement with the rest of the world is a requirement of good citizenship. The United States should be an unabashed promoter of freedom and democracy in the world, ready to work with others to help ease the burdens of less fortunate nations. We believe that the United States should have, and sometimes must use, the strongest military in the world. It is also important to shine a spotlight on global development challenges that don’t necessarily dominate daily news headlines, and that is part of our mission.

And a muffled …and we need a foreign policy… Yes, we need to be and remain engaged with the rest of the world, not only out of obligation to our fellow humans, but because the reality of today’s shrinking world simply leaves us no choice.

The issue with talk like this, of course, is that it’s easy and meaningless. I’m for economic freedom. Limited, of course, by the need to prevent poverty. I’m for a dynamic economy. Limited, of course by the need to preserve the environment.

The rubber meets the road when you have to talk about where those limits are and how we – together – determine them.

I expect more from the Times. A lot more, if they want to start getting my monthly check again.

Meanwhile I’ll just keep talking with my son and my wife.

8 thoughts on “The L.A. Times’ “Mission Statement””

  1. Great Examiner article, Marc.

    Reading the post here, I did notice in the “On the editorial page …” that the Times left out “listen”. That is the other of the two major parts of a dialogue. That it is missing in their effort to provide a panoply of verbs to describe the dialogue to be had with their readers, seems unusual and gives me the impression that, however much they may tip their hat to the word dialogue, they still feel it should be one-way.

  2. The LA Times is a lost cause and I am convinced virtually nothing will change. I cancelled my subscription the day after the President’s 2004 re-election. It was obvious the President had won a clear victory by 9 PM PST. The front page goes to bed sometime after midnight. But the front page insisted that the race was still up in the air! And this was just a minor incident — there were countless more egregious slanted “news” columns plus the whole “what’s news?” issue which the paper is hopelessly politically correct on.

    I’m glad the paper dumped Robert Scheer and started printing Jonah Goldberg columns, but its news editors are no different from what they have been for countless years. Blatantly, unashamedly, grotesquely, politically correct. Identity politics is the mantra of the LA Times. It deserves to continue to lose subscribers and become even more irrelevant to Southern California.

  3. Corporate mission statement test: if it’s longer than a paragraph, it’s probably b.s.

    This particular mission statement is a tortured piece of political manifesto b.s. that’s trying to permit the paper’s political slants using weasel words. As opposed to, for instance, a short pithy statement that commits the paper to reporting the news accurately, holding itself and other media accountable to the same standards it uses with governments et. al., offering (pick a chosen section/focus: sports, business, etc.) coverage that can be benchmarked among the best in the nation, and offering a representative range of views on its op/ed pages and among its staff.

    Y’know, being a newspaper…

  4. “…citizen of the world.”

    Famous words of Socrates prior to his refusing said citizenship(exile) and accepting, instead, death.

  5. An Answer to the LA Times: What I want from you (if you want my money … and my attention)

    The thing I always wanted from the LA Times, and never EVER got, was reporting that told me what was going on in the streets around me.

    Why did the metro close down last week and there were a bunch of cops milling around downtown? Was it a test or a bomb threat or what?

    Were those gunshots in the night at 3:00 in the morning next door, and if so, who did what to whom?

    In the accident on the freeway that I edged past last week, there were six smashed-up cars, two of them flipped on their tops. Who was driving them? What happened? How many were illegals without insurance?

    Three ambulances went screaming by on the street yesterday evening – where were they coming from and what happened?

    In fact, what has to happen before an ambulance puts its sirens on, since so frequently traffic is backed up to the point where it’ll make very little difference any way in the speed of the ambulance getting there. Where do ambulances take squished people in freeway accidents? How long does it take on average if you *are* in an accident on the freeway to get you to a hospital?

    These are the things that matter to me, personally, and what I got instead from the LA Times was “undercover investigations” of Arnold’s groping back in the day (much of which was made up piece-meal from what I could see), BusHitler diatribes from *all* of their columnists, and story after story after story telling me how stupid and uninformed I am for not voting Democrat. Oh, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist who holed up with a bunch of Paletinian terrorists for a week as they desecrated a Christian church and then filed a story portraying them as hero’s to be sympathized with and supported. As if.

    Hell, if they just printed some of the really good Hollywood gossip that I *know* they must have access to, it would be an incentive to read them. But gossip must not be “good Pulitzer journalism”, and as they’ve also farmed out their classified sections for both car sales and apartment rentals there is NO Los Angeles angle at all … so why bother? I can surf the internet and find what I want in the world, and since the LA Times refuses to tell me what I want to know about Los Angeles locally *and* insists on telling me how stupid I am at the same time, nuts to ‘em.

    I’m very much enjoying the spectacle of them flopping about like a fish on dry land gasping for ideas, while simultaneously going bankrupt. Yum! Maybe someone will write a Pulitzer story about the demise of journalism in America in the next few years, after both the LA Times and the NY Times have finished their self-inflicted hara kiri.

  6. “Let’s go through some of it. the opening sentence is a good place to start:

    The Los Angeles Times is a citizen of the city of Los Angeles, the state of California, the American nation and the world.

    No, you’re not. You keep using that word – citizenship – and I’m not sure you know what it means. You’re a citizen of the United States, with a supreme obligation to the polity assembled around it; you’re members of the Los Angeles and California communities, with obligations within those communities …”
    ========================
    As a matter of fact, the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” So I am a citizen of the United States, and a citizen of New Jersey, where I reside. And the person who wrote the LA Times article is indeed a citizen of California.

  7. Henry IX:

    The person or committee of persons who actually wrote that article may well have been a citizen or citizens of L.A., the state of California and the USA.

    But the LA Times is not a citizen of anywhere. “Citizen” implies being human. The LA Times is not. And I very much doubt that everyone working for it is a US citizen, too. Legal residents, perhaps – although I am by no means certain of that either.

  8. Henry – back when the Constitution was written, the state was the locus of politics – most political activity took place in the context of the individual state.

    That’s not so true any more…so yes, in the letter of the law, we are all citizens of the states and commonwealths in which we reside.

    As a practical matter, the political community to which we belong is national.

    A.L.

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