MEDIA: Los Angeles Times - laid back, but not easy to pitch. The Los Angeles Times business section is just as hard-hitting as its New York competitors, it just delivers the news in a more laid-back style Claire Atkinson shows pros the best way to approac

It’s not often you see a rendition of a dollars 100 bill featuring Benjamin Franklin in a pair of shades, but it’s an appropriately irreverent image for the hometown paper of California.

It’s not often you see a rendition of a dollars 100 bill featuring Benjamin Franklin in a pair of shades, but it’s an appropriately irreverent image for the hometown paper of California.

It’s not often you see a rendition of a dollars 100 bill featuring

Benjamin Franklin in a pair of shades, but it’s an appropriately

irreverent image for the hometown paper of California.

The Franklin graphic appears on a feature called Wall Street, California

in the Los Angeles Times’s business section. It seems the laid-back

residents of America’s second-largest metro area are as interested in

the world of commerce as anyone in New York - they just want it

delivered differently.

The daily paper’s business section is edited by Bill Sing, who has

worked in just about every position on the business desk since joining

in 1979. His first post was as a beat reporter - covering everything

from airlines to agriculture. He then moved up to assistant editor and

deputy editor before gaining the top slot in June 1996.

One of Sing’s innovations is Stock Exchange, a light-hearted

Siskel-and-Ebert-esque discussion on popular stocks conducted by two

Times staffers, Jim Peltz and Michael Hiltzik.

Each day the business section carries a special subsection on a

different aspect of business. Monday and Thursday’s sections have

Cutting Edge, which throws the spotlight on computers, technology and

telecommunications; Tuesday’s has Wall Street, California (with an

amusing Motley Fool column) and Wednesday’s Small Business focus looks

at the region’s entrepreneurs.

Sing’s business section is part of a newspaper that has been through an

exhausting round of changes lately, with the revolving door spinning

faster than ever before. During 1998, former publisher Mark Willes cut

the editorial staff nearly in half to 1,000, axing 892 jobs, including

358 full-time positions, according to Times Mirror’s 1998 annual


Willes earned the name ’Cereal Killer’ when he compared selling

newspapers to selling the breakfast staple (he came to Times Mirror from

cereal maker General Mills). He also wanted the journalists to think in

a more businesslike fashion and work more closely with their advertising

colleagues. This caused consternation among the staff, but things have

settled slightly with the arrival of a new publisher, Kathryn Downing

(Willes remains chairman and CEO of Times Mirror).

The goal to raise circulation to around two million still stands. As of

March 31, 1999, the Times’s circulation was just under 1.1 million,

according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. That’s a slight rise

during the previous year of 3,000 copies on average for the

Monday-to-Friday paper.

’There’s a lot of gold to be mined here,’ VP and editor Michael Parks

commented in the annual report. ’It is not just an ambition: it’s a


I truly believe Southern Californians need us to help them navigate the

complex issues of the 21st Century.’

Asked about the current relationship between the business side and the

journalists, one reporter responds: ’There are still strong walls

between editorial and advertising.’

The Times is a national paper and Sing deals with local, national and

international stories. He joins other section editors twice a day at

10:30 am and 2 pm and attends the page-one meeting at 2:30 pm.

As the business section for one of the nation’s leading dailies, Sing’s

fiefdom is an obvious place for PR pros to want to pitch stories. But

the editor has a cynical view about PR and advises to approach reporters


The editor says PR pros should be pitching the relevant reporters and

leaving him alone. He is dismissive of the pitching process and says

that if firms didn’t ever call with ideas, the desk would still have

more than enough stories to fill the paper.

He balks at the idea that PR and marketing execs control the

entertainment industry, adding that he encourages reporters to make

their own contacts.

Indeed, the Times won a Pulitzer in April for exposing malfeasance in

the entertainment business; reporters Michael Hiltzik and Chuck Philips

took the beat-reporting award for their articles on a charity sham

sponsored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, among


Sing, however, adds that there are ways of getting the best out of the

paper. ’Don’t pitch puff,’ he says, echoing a common sentiment among


’Look at the bigger picture, the broader agenda. PR people should

position themselves as resources.’

PR pros are most likely to score if they are pitching the most covered

subjects. ’Small business, international trade and economics are big, as

well as what’s happening on the markets and investing,’ Sing says.

As for reporters, the business section has a small army (Sing oversees a

total staff of 75), each covering beats from mutual funds to Mexican

business, and from as far away as Tokyo. The paper’s web site, LA, gives a complete list of who’s who on the business section,

with contact numbers. The site is also updated throughout the day with

breaking news.

Not surprisingly, the area gaining most coverage in the business section

is technology. Jonathan Gaw is one of a number of e-commerce reporters

with bulging e-mail inboxes. ’Its 9:18 am and I already have 17

e-mails,’ says Gaw, ’and that is not including the ones that were sent

overnight.’ However, Gaw, who works in the Orange County bureau and

reports to technology editor Lisa Fung, does not discourage pitches. ’PR

people can e-mail me anything,’ he offers. ’I really do want to see


And if you think Sing, a co-founder of the Asian American Journalists

Association, is critical of PR pros, he is equally combative with his

own cadre of reporters. ’He is very difficult to reach and plays things

close to his chest,’ one of his underlings says.

’If you propose an idea he’ll ask you all kinds of questions about it.

Even if he likes the idea, he’ll poke at it.’


Los Angeles Times business section

Times Mirror Square

Los Angeles, CA 90053

Phone: (213) 237-7163

Fax: (213) 237-7837, (213) 237-4712


Business editor: Bill Sing

Deputy business editor/aerospace: Ralph Vartabedian


Economics/PacRim/Mexico/Latin America/Europe/Int’l trade: Don Woutat

Small business/labor: Pat Benson

Highway/autos/energy: Henry Fuhrmann

Technology/telecommunications: Lisa Fung

Wall Street, California/financial markets/insurance/banking/personal

finance: Tom Petruno, Dan Gaines, Josh Friedman


health: Annette Haddad

Biotech/agriculture/food/business law: Bill Loving

Entertainment industry: Mark Saylor

Commercial real estate/career tabs/workplace: Roger Vincent.

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