Is the Los Angeles Times a Newspaper or a Tabloid?

Illustration of a Los Angeles Times newspaper in a library with the headline ‘Where Did We Go Wrong?’ and an overwhelmed editor at a desk.

OP/ED – As a young child born in Los Angeles, I remember reading the Los Angeles Times to my father at his insistence because English was not his primary language. Decades later, I was reading the same paper to my mother as her health rapidly deteriorated and she no longer could read.  My family believed the reporting in the newspaper for decades, but my impression of the paper has changed dramatically in the recent past.

The difference between a bona fide newspaper and a tabloid is the quality of its news reporting. A newspaper is charged with reporting the news objectively. A tabloid freely mixes opinion with facts in order to make the story as sensational as possible.

A column in the Washington Post recently raised the question: “Is someone (a journalist) trying to prove that something is true or discover whether it is true?” In a tabloid, the goal is to seize upon an event and make it as scandalous as possible. Quality journalism relies on understanding multiple dimensions of a story and telling it without bias.

The LA Times has been on the skids for some time. Multiple reckless billionaires have degraded the paper to the point that it is a mere shadow of the once mighty newspaper of record west of the Mississippi that it once was. Obviously, most newspapers are having a tough time in this social media age, but few major papers have fallen as far and as fast as the LA Times.

The LA Times’ offenses against the ethics of journalism fall into two familiar buckets – crimes of omission and commission. As the wall between opinion and news was breached, the Times coverage concentrated on cancelling people they disliked and venerating people they favored. Endless articles ran on shaming one person or another, always leaving out the positive.

The Times “investigative” writers often back into their stories. They write the whole story before even speaking with the target and then have a strong disincentive to correct the slant after having invested so much time in creating it.

Eliminating bias completely is impossible. “Fair and balanced” is an aspiration that cannot always be met. However, the LA Times has fallen far below the level of credible journalism, and it is clear their audience is voting by cancelling subscriptions. The Washington Post has a circulation five times that of the LA Times. You might also notice how little advertising the LA Times contains.

Serious newspaper readers are not interested in having to translate articles they read through a filter of bias. Nor are they interested in 5000-word stories whose sole intent is to pick winners and losers according to the paper’s preferences. It is boring to consume news from a source where you know what they will say before they say it because they are dominated by their own ideology.

Which takes us back full circle to the tabloids which are blatantly unmoored from journalistic standards. Consumers know that what they are reading is juiced up. The more sensational, the better. The coin of the realm in 2024 is authenticity. If the Los Angeles Times is to survive, then it has a choice to make. Become another opinion rag that has completely disposed of the fig leaf of balance or return to reporting the news rather than proselytizing its own opinion.

It is painful to imagine America’s second largest city without a credible daily newspaper. Angelenos deserve better.  My parents would be greatly disappointed at the quality of the current newspaper.

(Dr. William Arroyo is chair of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Board of Directors.)