LA WATCHDOG - On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times published information on its average daily circulation, and it was not pretty.
Over the last twelve months, the total paid distribution dropped by 17%, from 150,000 to 125,000 copies. This was not unexpected given the sorry state of the newspaper business.
What was unexpected was the 4% drop in paid digital subscriptions, from 314,000 to 303,000, an area of expected growth. This is contrary to the July announcement by The Times that it had 550,000 digital subscriptions.
Along with the serious decline in run-of-press and classified advertising, the paper is hemorrhaging cash.
So, what is The Times’ plan for financial sustainability now that it must rely on subscription revenue because advertisers have ditched print and digital advertising growth has slowed.
What is The Times’ business plan and strategy? What is the value proposition for subscribers? How does it intend to earn our trust and confidence so that we are willing to shell out $500 a year for home delivery or $200 for a digital subscription?
One of the major problems is that Angelenos do not trust the City, the County, and other governmental entities. We have been misled for years. There is a lack of transparency and accountability. This includes the Department of Water and Power, Metro, and the Los Angeles Unified School District.
One example is the impact of the new labor agreements on the City budget. This year’s “balanced” budget is now $173 million in the red and next year’s shortfall of $68 million has ballooned to $440 million. At the same time, the City Council and Mayor knew of and ignored the carnage because they feared alienating the leaders of the public sector unions. The Los Angeles Times should have been all over this malfeasance.
Likewise, the paper should be examining the impact of the 100% Renewable Energy plan being developed by DWP. This plan, which will cost $87 billion, will triple our rates over the next twelve years. But if the goal were only 80%, this would reduce expenditures by an estimated $30 billion, or about $7,500 for every Angeleno, and dramatically reduce the impact on rates.
Or put another way, why pay $1,200 to eliminate a ton of greenhouse gas for the last 20% when the current market is only $50?
The homeless budget also needs to be thoroughly examined. What is the total cost to the City? Is it in the range of $20 billion? And will the City need to absorb some of the services that are the responsibility of the County?
Another area that deserves scrutiny is the cost of a unit of permanent supportive housing. According to Controller Ron Galperin, the average cost is $600,000, which, on a square foot basis, would make Beverly Hills look like a bargain.
The structural deficit of LAUSD, the extraordinary expensive and unrealistic plans of Metro to connect the Valley to the Westside via a tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass, and the County budget are also items that require increased scrutiny along with all the unfunded pension liabilities of our governmental entities.
And of course, we have the reform of the City Hall. While the City Council is focusing on the establishment of an independent redistricting commission and an increase in the number of Councilmembers, the real emphasis should be on creating a well-financed and independent Ethics Commission that can place measures on the ballot. We need additional oversight entities such as the Office of Anti-Corruption and Transparency proposed by Councilmen David Ryu and Paul Koretz and the Office of Transparency and Accountability recommended by the LA 2020 Commission.
We need open and transparent labor negotiations and the elimination of Section 245(e) of the City Charter that allows the City Council to meddle in land use planning a la Jose Huizar.
In developing its game plan, The Times should also work with actual and potential subscribers to better understand what they want and why they would fork over their hard-earned cash for a subscription.
We need a strong paper that demands transparency and accountability in our governments and protects the liberties and financial interests of all Angelenos, not just those of our elected officials and special interests.
Finally, restore the Sports Section.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee, the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. He can be reached at: [email protected].)