They’re called bylines because, see, they tell us who the story is by. (Reported and then written by, that is. The gang of editors who may have rewritten the bejeesus out of it, and yet whose names may never appear in the paper their whole careers — that’s another issue entirely.)
So when I bring the Los Angeles Times A section out to my little table this morning at Bean Town on Baldwin in Sierra Madre to read as I eat my oatmeal and I turn to the lead story and I see beneath its headline the words “Richard Winton,” I internally say to myself, “Yes, Richard Winton — he’s the longtime Times staff writer, now downtown but formerly of the defunct San Gabriel Valley section where he reported on Pasadena City Hall and was thus the rival of Star-News and SGVN reporters, son-in-law of Linda Vistan and former Times staff writer Bryce Nelson, who is now a journalism professor at USC … yes, Richard Winton. But what about him? Oh. This is supposed to be telling me the story’s BY Richard? Well, then why not just say so?”
Don’t know. But the main reason, I suspect, that there also is no reference in a line immediately below his name that Richard is a full-time staff writer at the paper is so the Times can be less embarrassed by the fact that financial realities of newspapering mean that it is using fewer staff writers. It now can announce whether a person is on staff or not in the tagline at the bottom of the story, which no one reads, rather than up top.
So there is my first beef with the Times’ fairly massive redesign, launched today with a spadea — that is, the odd flap that comes a wide column out over the A section, otherwise wrapping around the back of the real section, and which we once tried, to readers’ great dismay, having every day wrapping around our features section — featuring a Wall Street Journal-style engraved mug of the Times’ new editor, Russ Stanton, explaining all the craziness to us.
Because while I will have my beefs, the fact is everyone hates changes in a newspaper’s style on the first day, and may still dislike them on subsequent days — and yet, soon enough, it’s as if it’s always been that way.
It’s still the first day, though, in big changes to a newspaper I’ve been reading for almost half a century, God help me. So, more beefs: Adding white space INSIDE the grand Gothic type in the flag — the place where it says The Los Angeles Times at the top of Page A1? Why? What’s wrong with the boldness of black? Ain’t that what Gothic’s all about? I don’t care for it one little bit.
And then, as the eye moves down to the place below the byline in search of what everyone still calls the dateline, and we find … nothing?
Well, admittedly, here’s where the wheels fall off the internal logic of newspapering. The dateline has not, with the exception of an occasional archaic inclusion in a New York Times story written a day or two earler from the antipodes, included an actual date on which the story was filed for generations. What it does contain is the place from which the story is reported, if, in the case of the L.A. Times, that place is not the city of Los Angeles.
Instead, the Times, which has announced by its abscence its desire to save ink or precious space or whatever it is by the removal of the word “By,” now ADDS the words, still as is traditional in all caps but in much smaller type, “reporting from.” As in, in today’s Column One story on the left shoulder — a place where editors place what they believe to be the best newsy feature of the day — “Scott Kraft, Reporting from Guguletu, South Africa.”
Yesterday, that would have read:
“By Scott Kraft
Guguletu, South Africa — Easy Nofemela remembers the evening Amy Biehl died.”
Yes, I prefer the way it used to be. Bring back the “By.” Lose the “Reporting from.” We get it.
Elsewhere: Don’t care for the dark-gray, too-wide rule announcing internal sections of the paper such as Nation or Opinion.
On the Opinion pages, really don’t care for taking the magnificent Times eagle symbol down below the editorials rather than above them, where it used to loom. Love having Berkeley Breathed draw and write a hilarious cartoon supporting Proposition 2 on the California ballot — but that’s a one-off. And a sad reminder that the Times, along with the other newspapers that buy him (we can’t because the Times has locked him up, demanding that no other Southern California papers can have access), will lose Breathed’s brilliant “Opus” next month when he stops drawing it.
If, as announced, the Times will go to drawings rather than mugs for its columnists, why does hockey columnist Helene Elliott on the front of Sports not get a mug? So maybe it’s not going to the line drawings after all.
“Each section has its own color to make finding it a snap,” an explainer says. Maybe so. But words don’t work anymore?
Anyway. The note from Stanton asks, “Please let us know what you think of our new look.” That’s what I think. And unlike the old days of cutthroat competition, I think we’re all in this together now. I used to work for the Times as a copy kid just out of college, and then used to write for it as well, including a cover story for its late, lamented Sunday magazine. I wish the Times, a great American newspaper, nothing but the best. And, yes, in a few months, I won’t even notice these cosmetic changes, which, in the end, are the sizzle, and not the steak.