As CEO of The Los Angeles Times, flagship of the $3.6 billion Times Mirror Company, David Laventhol has command of an endangered vessel. Once a profit maker, the Times has recently been leaking money at an alarming rate. In 1991, operating profit for the Times Mirror newspaper publishing division was down for the fourth consecutive year, to $132 million from a 1987 high of $378 million. The Los Angeles Times, long the major source of the division’s profit, is now a cause of major concern.
Not only is advertising sharply down and local newspaper competition increasing, but circulation is also down. People don’t seem to want to read the paper as much as they used to.
“Our future,” says Laventhol, 59, “is going to be determined by things like the educational policy of this country. Are people going to read?”
More to the point, are people going to read the Times? There’s no doubt that newspaper readership in general is down; television, bad schools, and decreased leisure time have seen to that. The Times is the city’s only major daily paper, but in the sprawling precincts of greater LA, Laventhol faces the competition of 40 local papers brimming with local news. He can’t do much about the educational policy of the country, but he can do something about local news: The L4 Times is now “zoning.”
“Without local news we can’t compete with those 40 papers, so we have five zone editions and plan more.” The problem is that zone editions require more staff, and staff is what Laventhol has been cutting for four years now: Since 1989, the Times’ personnel have been reduced 15 percent by early retirement and normal attrition.
In his other role as president of the Times Mirror parent corporation, Laventhol is heir apparent to Chairman and CEO Robert F. Erburu, 62. His experience has linked him to the declining fortunes of the newspaper operations (six papers, including
Today, Times Mirror’s newspaper revenues are down to 54 percent of the corporation’s total. Laventhol predicts that they will be down to 50 percent by the end of the 90s as the much more profitable cable TV and professional book publishing divisions grow. Laventhol also sees a limit to the compromises the respected LA Times will make. Class, not mass, is his goal.
“In the end,” he says, “we are a newspaper for people who read.” By the 21st century that may be a niche market.