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Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Times (also L.A. Times) is a daily newspaper published in Los Angeles, California and distributed throughout the Western United States. With a circulation of 965,633 readers per day as of 2002, it is the second-largest metropolitan newspaper in the United States (after the New York Times).



The paper was first published as the Los Angeles Daily Times on December 4, 1881, but soon went bankrupt. The paper's printer, the Mirror Company, took over the newspaper and installed former Union army lieutenant colonel Harrison Gray Otis as editor. Otis made the paper a financial success and in 1884 bought out the newspaper and printing company, forming the Times-Mirror Company.

Historian Andrew Rolle called Otis "the single most important force in Los Angeles aside from government itself." Otis's editorial policy was based on civic boosterism, extolling the virtues of Los Angeles and promoting its growth. Towards those ends, the paper supported efforts to expand the city's water supply by acquiring the watershed of the Owens Valley, an effort (slightly) fictionalized in the Roman Polanski movie Chinatown. Otis was also staunchly Republican and conservative, which was reflected in the paper's editorial and news content.

Rubble of the Times building after the bombing
Rubble of the Times building after the bombing

The efforts of the Times to fight local unions led to the October 1, 1910 bombing of its headquarters and the home of Otis, killing 21 people. Two union leaders, James and Joseph McNamara, were charged with the murders. The American Federation of Labor hired noted trial attorney Clarence Darrow to represent the brothers, who eventually pleaded guilty, although supporters then (and since) believed the two men were framed. The paper soon relocated to the Times Building , a Los Angeles landmark.

On Otis's death in 1917, his son-in-law Harry Chandler took over the reins as publisher of the Times. Harry Chandler was succeeded in 1944 by his son, Norman Chandler , who ran the paper during the rapid growth of post-war Los Angeles. Norman's wife, heiress and fellow Stanford alum Dorothy Buffum Chandler, became active in civic affairs and led the effort to build the Los Angeles Music Center, whose main concert hall was named the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in her honor.

The fourth generation of family publishers, Otis Chandler , held that position from 1960 to 1980. Otis Chandler sought legitimacy and recognition for his family's paper, often forgotten in the power centers of the Northeastern United States because of its geographic and cultural distance. He sought to remake the paper in the model of the nation's most respected newspapers, notably the New York Times and Washington Post. Believing that the newsroom was "the heartbeat of the business" (according to McDougal's biography), Otis Chandler increased the size and pay of the reporting staff, and expanded its national and international reporting. In 1962, the paper joined with the Washington Post to form the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service to syndicate articles from both papers to other news organizations around the world.

At the same time, the search for approval also changed the paper's political tone. Under Otis Chandler, the paper shifted from its historic Republican political slant to the more customary liberal perspective of the New York-Washington media power center. During the 1960s, the paper won 4 Pulitzer Prizes, more than its previous nine decades combined.

The paper's early history and subsequent transformation was chronicled in a (decidedly) unauthorized history Thinking Big (1977), and was one of four organizations profiled in The Powers That Be. It has also been the subject of at least eight dissertations by social science Ph.D. students in the University of California system.

Business Operations

By the mid-1940s, the Los Angeles Times was the leading newspaper in terms of sales in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. In 1989, its last rival for the Los Angeles daily newspaper market, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, went out of business, making Los Angeles nominally a one-newspaper city. However, in the suburban neighborhoods of the San Fernando Valley, the Times still competed with the Valley News, which later renamed itself the Los Angeles Daily News to compete with the Times. La Opinion, a Spanish language daily newspaper previously owned by the Times for several years in the 1990s, also sells many papers.

Even with less direct competition, its paid circulation figures have decreased since the mid 1990s, and lately the paper has not been able to pass the 1 million mark that it easily achieved in prior decades. Part of the reason for the circulation drop may be from the actions of a succession of short-lived editors, including "cereal killer" Mark Willes, who took the paper in controversial directions after Otis Chandler, the Times ' last Chandler dynasty member, relinquished day-to-day control in 1985. (McDougal, Privileged Son)

In 2000 the Times-Mirror Company was purchased by the Tribune Company, ending one of the final examples of a family-controlled metropolitan daily newspaper in the U.S. (the New York Times remains).

The Times has won 37 Pulitzer Prizes through 2004, including four for editorial cartooning, and spot news reporting awards for each of the 1965 Watts riots and 1992 Los Angeles riots. In 2004, the paper won five prizes, which was the second-most by any paper in one year, only behind the New York Times in 2002.


  • Edward Maddin Ainsworth, History of Los Angeles Times, ca. 1940.
  • Robert Gottlieb, Thinking Big, New York: Putnam, 1977.
  • David Halberstam, The Powers That Be, New York: Knopf, 1979.
  • Jack R. Hart, The information empire: The rise of the Los Angeles Times and the Times Mirror Corporation, Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1981.
  • Dennis McDougal, Privileged son: Otis Chandler and the rise and fall of the L.A. Times dynasty, Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo, 2002

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Last updated: 11-08-2004 11:18:00