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Betty Ford, Amy Winehouse: Who is worthy of A1?

July 26, 2011 |  2:28 pm

Rrj-ford Rrj-winehouse

Which of these obituaries would you run on the front page of the newspaper: that of a well-respected former first lady, or an acclaimed yet troubled young singer?

The Times' response to this question puzzled reader Colleen Bennett of La Verne.

"OK, let me get this straight," Bennett wrote. "The L.A. Times didn't think the death of Betty Ford, former first lady and substance abuse treatment icon, deserved a front page obituary. But Amy Winehouse, a flash-in-the-pan singer who didn't see the need to recover from said substance abuse, does?"

Who is deserving is one important consideration. Deadline is another.

In this case, the editors' answer, actually, was that both Ford and Winehouse were worthy of the front page. However, as Assistant Managing Editor Joe Eckdahl explained, deadline came into play:

"On many days, production concerns and press capacity issues require us to close the front page before we send the LATExtra section to press. The news of Ford's passing came late on a Friday. We held the A1 presses long enough to ensure readers were informed of her death with a sizable photograph and an index item telling folks they could turn to LATExtra to read the full obituary."

In contrast, Winehouse's death was reported before noon Saturday, leaving plenty of time to be considered for Sunday's front page.

In terms of news space, the Ford obituary was given far greater prominence. The story dominated the cover of the LATExtra section and filled two pages inside with details and photos from her political and personal life.

The Winehouse obituary continued from the front page to about three-quarters of a page inside.

Still, it's difficult to overcome the impression of the front page. But Eckdahl said, "Be assured we meant no disrespect to former First Lady Betty Ford. Quite the contrary."

-- Deirdre Edgar