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Reporters vs. Owners

Amy DePaul

There’s an old song that describes the budding relationship between the beleaguered Los Angeles Times reporting staff and the paper’s new owner: Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

Check out the Times’ interview with its new owner, mogul and motorcycle enthusiast Sam Zell, who claimed to see the purchase as a business deal and hinted he would not dismantle the paper. This information was probably intended as good news, but it would have been more reassuring if Zell had expressed enthusiasm for the importance of newspapers to democracy. Sure, newspapers can be profitable; but they are way too much trouble to own for money alone, if only because they are run by pesky, nosy and trouble-making reporters. This is a lesson Zell may have learned already when Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote about going to Zell’s Malibu digs last week to grill him on a local civic issue: illegal gates erected by Malibu residents that make it hard to get to the public beach.

Of course, Lopez turned the entire event into a column that Zell most likely found annoying. Here’s what Lopez wrote:

“Zell lives a couple of hundreds yards from the public beach in question, but since you have to go through those gates to get to his place or to the surf, I thought it was only fair to ask if he knew anything about the dispute.

“So I rang the buzzer at his compound and a female voice answered on the intercom, saying he wasn’t in. I asked where he could be reached, then left my name and phone number.

“A half-hour later an editor reached me on my cell phone. He said Zell had heard about my visit and wanted to know why some guy named Lopez was harassing his house staff…and he didn’t appreciate me upsetting the help.”

Lopez then directed his column at Zell:

“Your plan for buying this company makes me a co-owner, so let me be the first to inform you that you didn’t buy another trailer park. This is a newspaper, and it’s our job to chase stories even if it means knocking on the boss’ door.”

Fight the power Steve.

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