Oscar spotlight a dim one for hometown L.A. Times
While old-fashioned investigative journalism took center stage in Los Angeles at the Oscars Sunday evening, hometown reporters for the L.A. Times found themselves scrambling to cover the event.
The Times had been allocated six passes for entry to the Dolby Theater – essential access to tell the story of the night by the big broadsheet located in America’s entertainment capital – but until the last minute not one of them was allocated to a reporter.
According to several sources in and around the Times, the passes went to the Tribune Publishing’s new brass. Tribune Publishing Chairman Michael Ferro and CEO Justin Dearborn reportedly used the passes, each along with a guest.
The last two were earmarked for publisher Tim Ryan, who was persuaded to do the right thing and gave up his seats after receiving a flabbergasted email from the Times’ film desk.
Those tickets — in the cheaper, mezzanine seats — allowed Times reporters Amy Kaufman and Steve Zeitchik into the theater to do their reporting.
Times editor Davan Maharaj, who spent part of Monday putting out the fires sparked by the incident, didn’t respond to an email requesting comment; he had told staffers that he was concerned that news of the Oscar ticket flap would make its way into the press.
I asked Michael Ferro for comment as well, but didn’t get a reply. Ferro has previously told me that he wouldn’t have public comment until after the company’s March 2 earnings call.
There is an irony here, of course. Spotlight — a cinematic triumph celebrating the craft of working journalists — unexpectedly won the Best Picture Oscar, while simultaneously, the L.A. Times’ own journalists had to fight their bosses to do their jobs. (One further irony: Marty Baron, now the editor of the Washington Post and the Boston Globe editor portrayed by Liev Schreiber in “Spotlight” posted on Facebook, “So close to the stage here at the Oscars! Not the last row, just the second to last row.”)
From the film staff’s memo, addressed both to publisher Ryan and to Maharaj:
Tim and Davan,
We on the film team were shocked to learn this week that the paper has not allocated a single one of its Oscar tickets to a reporter.
All of our competitors will have reporters both in the Dolby and at the Governors Ball. Here’s how they’re using their Oscar tickets:
Entertainment Weekly: 2 reporters, 2 editors
AP: 2 reporters
The New York Times: reporter plus 1
The Wall Street Journal: reporter plus 1
The Hollywood Reporter: 1 reporter, 1 editor
Variety: 1 reporter, 1 editor
Our reporters do not sit through the show, but rather use this access to gather exclusive quotes on the controversies of the evening in the lobbies and bars, deliver feeds on how the audience is receiving the host and solicit comments from the losers, who are not made available in the press room.
Entertainment coverage is a bedrock of this paper’s identity. To fail to send a single reporter on a year when the Oscars are at the center of a cultural debate over diversity is not only embarrassing, it’s bad journalism. Would the LA Times ever cover a political convention or a sporting event this way?
Please tell us that you will reconsider, and distribute at least one of the Times’ Oscar tickets to a reporter.
We won’t go into the arcane culture of freebie tickets and the newsroom and company policies that try to address them. Suffice it to say that while tickets can be valuable perks, getting the paper’s journalism done is always supposed to be the first priority. Earlier at the Times, similar Emmys and Grammys ticket disputes also caused a stir in the newsroom.
The gripes are both practical and symbolic. Yes, it’s about covering a big entertainment story – one for which above-average coverage should generate above-average digital traffic – but it touches a deeper nerve.
Maharaj, who apparently wangled the prestigious seats for his new bosses, is widely perceived at being expert at “managing up” while being insufficiently responsive in his dealings with his own newsroom.
I’ve covered Maharaj’s managing up skills in another article – it puts him line for greater business-side responsibilities at the Times (“Michael Ferro Cleans the House That Jack (Griffin) Built”).
The Oscars perk, though, may in part answer one question Tribune watchers have mulled over the last month: Why did Michael Ferro plow $44.4 million into a struggling newspaper company in the first place? One answer: Sometimes, investments like that can make you feel like a Hollywood star.
UPDATE: After this article was published, Tribune provided a statement attributed to Maharaj that read as follows:
“We requested Michael and Justin attend the Awards ceremony, just like top media executives of other major outlets do. The film industry represents one of our most important coverage areas -- and the paper’s largest advertisers.
We had a robust contingent of reporters and photographers on the red carpet, in the ballroom, backstage and in the auditorium. That’s why we had 3 million unique visitors consuming our continuous Oscar coverage.”