Saturday, July 18, 2009

Los Angeles and its Times

I had a wonderful time down in Los Angeles. More than 300 people showed up at the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library for the ALOUD talk with me and USC professor Bill Deverell. It was an appreciative audience who was eager to learn more about Isaias Hellman and the days of early Los Angeles.

Before the talk I visited Paul Feldman, a foreign editor at the Los Angeles Times. I had never been inside the paper and was interested in seeing it, in part because I worked at newspapers for so long and the Times was for decades one of the nation's best. Of course, the fact that I discovered in the course of my research that Isaias Hellman had lent $18,000 to Harrison Gray Otis in 1886 to take control of the paper has given me an added interest in the place.

It was an interesting and sobering tour. The building, especially the Art Deco lobby, is beautiful, with its globe standing in the center of a domed room decorated by Depression-era murals. One can't help but be impressed by the five golden Pulitzer Prizes hanging on a wall and numerous front pages announcing big stories.

But the newsroom felt more muted than I expected and there were plenty of empty desks. At one time, an entire addition to the building housed the corporate headquarters of Times-Mirror, that powerful media conglmoerate that once owned the Times, the Baltimore Sun, Newsday, and other newspapers.

Of course I had to stop by the book review section, where Paul and I chatted with David Ulin, the books editor. If you are a writer and have wondered why your books have never been reviewed in the Times, or other major papers, the size of the book is a perfect explanation. It is jammed with books and easy to see how there are too many books and too few column inches. (photos below)

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