Will a declining newspaper really lead to a loss of stature for Los Angeles?

Newspapers across the United States have suffered circulation declines and employee layoffs in recent years. The Los Angeles Times has been no different and was even bought out by the Tribune Company. But can people really suggest that Los Angeles is losing stature because its primary newspaper is having trouble?

Since The Times was sold to Tribune, its newsroom staff has been cut in half. For many Angelenos, the downsizing is just one more sign that their city is losing stature. Add it to the list of other ego-bruising blows, like the loss of its professional football team, the flight of Fortune 500 companies from the city limits and a failed bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“We don’t even have a football team. So what does that tell you?” said Mr. Cheeseborough, a note of resignation in his voice.

The Times’s weekday circulation has been nearly halved since 2000, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, falling to just over 600,000 — a far steeper rate of decline than at many other big dailies like The Chicago Tribune, The Detroit Free Press and The Washington Post.

To identify where all the local harrumphing comes from, it helps to understand just how closely the rise of The Times is associated with the rise of Los Angeles as a capital of culture and commerce.

The paper’s founding families, the Otises and the Chandlers, used their fledgling publication to push for the development that helped give rise to modern Los Angeles. Water was first piped into the San Fernando Valley because they arranged for it. Los Angeles Harbor was built in part because of their backing.

The suggestion here is that the newspaper decline is part of a recent serious of public failures. By invoking the founding families of the newspaper and their “growth machine”/boosterism efforts, the suggestion is the out-of-towners who manage the newspaper (from Chicago, no less) don’t care much about the city. And if the newspaper doesn’t care any more, then why should anyone in the city or outside the city care?

This argument seems spurious at best. There could be several things going on here:

1. There is resentment about a Chicago company owning the Los Angeles Times. Chicago and LA have had a long-term rivalry as Chicago almost overtook New York City in population in the 1890s (leading New York to annex all five boroughs into the city) and then Los Angeles grew tremendously after World War Two to overtake Chicago as the “Second City.” This is a matter of civic pride.

2. People who like newspapers or journalists are upset about the demise of the Times while the general population is not. Journalists tend not to like to see the decline of revered outlets. Could this just be journalists upset about the general decline of newspapers? The problems described in this story, less news, more ads, are emblematic of the entire industry.

3. This is simply bad timing. There is not a causal relationship here: the decline of the Los Angeles Times coincides with a number of other events.

In the end, do people really think that Los Angeles’ culture and commerce are going to decline precipitously in the near future because of its newspaper?

LA Times portal on value-added analysis of teachers

The Los Angeles Times has put together an information and opinion filled portal regarding their recent publication of a value-added analysis of Los Angeles teachers.

Measuring teacher performance is a tricky subject as there are a number of factors at play in a student’s academic performance. In an article, the newspaper summarizes how value-added scores are estimated:

Value-added estimates the effectiveness of a teacher by looking at the test scores of his students. Each student’s past test performance is used to project his performance in the future. The difference between the child’s actual and projected results is the estimated “value” that the teacher added or subtracted during the year. The teacher’s rating reflects his average results after teaching a statistically reliable number of students.

In addition to these methodological questions, there are number of other fascinating issues: should this sort of information be publicly available and how will affect teacher’s performance? Is it an accurate assessment of what teachers do? What should be done for the teachers who fall outside the normal range? How will the politics of all of this play out?

For those interested in education and measuring outcomes, this all makes for interesting reading.

(As a side note: I can only imagine what discussions would ensure if similar information was published regarding college professors.)