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
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
’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
Times.com, gives a complete list of who’s who on the business section,
with contact numbers. The site is also updated throughout the day with
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.