When the story of why our daily newspapers died is finally told, Ed Moss will deserve more than a passing mention.
He already is the first and last chapter of my book “Who Killed the LA Daily News.”
The newspaper where I spent half my adult life was born in 1980 out of the world’s most successful throwaway shopper, the Valley News and Green Sheet. There were 14 localized editions thrown on lawns four times a week. It was thick with community news and classified advertising and everybody remembers it fondly for their names and the names of their children being in it frequently.
I saw it surge in paid circulation to over 210,000 by 1990 and become an important source of news in the city and region with a newsroom staff of 265. And I saw it start to decline because of a long series of terrible management decisions.
Today, it is a thin imitation of what it once was, of what it could have been.
Many are responsible for what went wrong. But Ed Moss, and the owner who put him in place, Dean Singleton, bear the heaviest responsibility.
Moss sucked the spirit out of the paper and left it to die. On Wednesday, he resigned to become publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune, which was recently bought as a real estate deal for its Mission Valley plant by Beverly Hills-based Platinum Equity
Sending Moss to fix a struggling paper is like sending a mortician to treat an ailing patient. He will do the only thing he knows how to do: Cut, and cut, and cut some more: When he’s done with his handiwork, the U-T will be ready for embalming and burial much like the Daily News is
Moss arrived at the Daily News nearly two years ago when it still had fight in it and immediately was dubbed “Little Napoleon” for his short stature, imperious manner and inability to engage in any kind of intelligent discussion of strategies that might save the paper.
He’s a man who speaks in vapid cliches and offers no leadership.
“I’m all about local, local, local – local news, local advertising,”
Moss told a reporter for the Union-Tribune on Wednesday. “That’s our niche. The way to differentiate ourselves is to
be as local across the company as we can.”
Moss seems like an unusual choice to be publisher of a newspaper like the U-T, a dominant newspaper in a healthy community. It is struggling like all papers but has the resources to reinvent itself in the Internet age.
For one thing, Moss doesn’t like people very much, which is why he is virtually unknown to anyone in the Valley community although glad-handing is an important part of a publisher’s job. For another, he seems almost proud of the fact he knows little about advertising or circulation and certainly nothing about journalism.
What Ed knows is how to cut, a skill that is attributable to his ruthlessness and lack of respect for the people who work for him.
In his 23 months at the Daily News, the editorial staff — already reduced by half in previous years — was slashed by two-thirds. There’s now only nine news reporters and a staff of barely 40 to produce the paper which has shrunk to the point most days that it gives new meaning to the idea of a fast-read newspaper.
Almost every department of the paper from circulation to sales has been eliminated or gutted to the point of dysfunction.
There are no assets. The offices were sold and so were the presses. How the journalists who are left get the paper out is a miracle, proof of what I knew from my 23 years there that the staff of the Daily News was the hardest-working and most dedicated I had ever seen.
They got no respect for their efforts from Ed Moss. He was too afraid or too uncaring to ever come by the newsroom.
I’ve never worked for anyone worse in my 44 years at nine different news organizations.
My contempt for Moss isn’t personal. I’d been fired before but never by someone who had to fly in a surrogate from out of town to do it. I’d crossed wits with many bosses before over differences in journalistic values and vision but I never anyone quite like Moss who had neither journalistic values nor vision.
When I refused to reduce the staff below 100 unless we redefined the mission for the paper and developed a new strategic plan, Moss cut off all discussion with me, mistaking passion for anger.
Moss is a man without a plan, an empty suit, a destroyer without any creative imagination.
It says a lot about the state of the newspaper industry that someone like him can land a plum job in a vibrant town like San Diego where the paper could be saved while so many skilled people I know in circulation, advertising and journalism are out of work.
My heart goes out to my colleagues still at the Daily News every time I pick up the paper and see what Moss’ leadership has done to it. Somehow I hope it will be different in San Diego but I doubt it.
For an industry that has shown so little imagination over the last 60 years — half the daily newspapers in the country went out of business when television arrived and the rest are danger now with the triumph of the Internet — Ed Moss seems like a man for his time.
Who better to kill a newspaper than a journalistic mortician.