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Times, Daily News Battle Mirrors Secession Conflict

The Secession Question: A Special Report Times, Daily News Battle Mirrors Secession Conflict Perhaps nowhere has media coverage of the secession campaign more perfectly mirrored the divide between secessionists and City Hall than in the Daily News and Los Angeles Times. The two papers have served as the yin and yang of the secession movement, with the Times placing a higher emphasis on coverage of the pitfalls of secession and the Daily News focusing on the ills of city government. Secessionists and critics of the Times say the paper was slow to begin in-depth coverage of secession because it didn’t take it seriously. Only when it became clear that voters would have an opportunity to decide the issue, many suggest, did the Times assign a five-person team of reporters. But much of the coverage, they add, has been one-sided. “To find balanced coverage in the Los Angeles Times on cityhood, you’ve really got to look hard,” said Valley Independence Committee co-chairman Richard Katz. Calls to the Times for comment were not returned. On the other hand, opponents of a breakup have criticized the Daily News for its apparent bias and have accused Managing Editor Ron Kaye of crossing the line between impartial reporting and advocacy journalism. Kaye did not return calls to the Business Journal. “I think it’s clear both papers have an editorial position on the issue, but clearly more so in the Daily News,” said Kevin Roderick, author of “The San Fernando Valley: America’s Suburb.” The paper gave Valley VOTE $60,000 in 1998 to fund the initial study on Valley secession. In addition, former reporters and editors of the paper have said their stories were often tweaked to present a more favorable view of the cityhood movement and its key players. On the other hand, the Times is reported to have paid a $40,000 membership fee to the Los Angeles Business Advisors, an anti-secession group. Daily News circulation is just under 130,000 in the San Fernando Valley, compared to the Times Valley circulation of 151,190. Some believe the Daily News would gain significantly in both advertising revenue and readership if the Valley were to become its own city, explaining, they say, the paper’s coverage. The Daily News is said to be working on plans for covering a new Valley city. Industry experts say opportunities for economic gain as a result of secession for either paper are very hard to calculate. “Retail and national advertisers make their decisions on where the paper is picked up,” said J.J. McGrath, managing editor of Editor and Publisher, a newspaper industry magazine. “So that likely won’t change much. But from a business perspective, the legal advertisements are probably the only things you can count on if you are looking at revenue increases.” McGrath said legal advertising typically constitutes about 10 percent of the classified ad revenue for a daily newspaper, and classified ads typically represent roughly 40 percent of the paper’s overall ad revenue. Roderick suggested the Daily News’ whole-hearted coverage of secession and its reporting style in general may not remain all that appealing to the changing profile of its readership which, over time and with or without secession, could switch over to the Times. “The larger issue for the Daily News is identifying so closely with a particular viewpoint (on secession). Only time will tell whether that was a good business call or not,” said Roderick. “And, as the Valley grows and becomes more cosmopolitan, it looks more like L.A. all the time, so the Daily News’ style may not match the interests of those readers the way the Los Angeles Times may.” Jacqueline Fox

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