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Al Martinez column: California editor responds to readers

January 11, 2009 |  1:13 pm

The decision to discontinue Al Martinez's weekly column has brought to the newsroom e-mails and calls from dozens of readers. Here is a note that California Editor David Lauter has sent to many who have written:

Russ Stanton forwarded your message regarding Al. You and I may not agree on the subject, but I'd like to explain our reasons.

As everyone knows, we're in the midst of the worst economic slowdown since the 1930s. Newspaper revenue, which comes overwhelmingly from advertising, is way down and is likely to drop even further over the course of the year as stores go out of business and those that remain cut back on the number of ads they run. As a result, we have to find ways to economize. And that means we have to make difficult choices. As California Editor, I've been happy to have Al's column in my section. He's a good man and a fine writer, and he's been part of the Times for many years. But my primary mission has to be news coverage. So when I'm looking at the budget, I have to weigh Al's column against things like keeping our Sacramento bureau operating to tell you and other readers what the governor and legislature are up to, or reserving money to buy fire gear to protect our reporters and photographers when they are in the field covering Southern California's  repeated wildfires.

We know that Al's column has many fans among our readers. Indeed, everything that we publish has fans. There is no way to make cuts without angering someone. I wish money were plentiful and we didn't have to make choices like this. But I can't change the economic realities we live with, and they are difficult. This is a year in which a number of newspapers around the country likely will go out of business altogether. The Times is not in that category, but we have to act prudently to make sure we never get to that point.

I'm sorry that Al's column is one of the things we have to let go of, and I'm sorry, too, that the decision has angered you. We value our readers and their opinions. I hope I've at least been able to shed light on how we came to this decision and that even if you disagree with it, you'll understand that it was done after considerable thought and extensive advance notice to Al.

Best wishes,

David Lauter
California Editor
Los Angeles Times