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March 29, 2019, 2:46 p.m.

Newsonomics: At the new L.A. Times, Norm Pearlstine is doing a little California dreaming

“With a traditional media company, you can have well-defined lines as long as you’re doing the same thing every day. But when you’re trying to reinvent yourself, if you don’t have an ease of communication with IT and with your business counterparts, it doesn’t work.”

Last year, on his third attempt — over 46 years — to get a good job in Los Angeles, Norm Pearlstine landed the plum of West Coast plums. Once Patrick Soon-Shiong paid a billionaire’s ransom to free the Los Angeles Times (and San Diego Union-Tribune) from the clutches of Tronc, Pearlstine took on an unexpected role: executive editor of the newest Los Angeles Times.

Some snorted that he’d “pulled a Cheney”; Soon-Shiong had hired the Dow Jones/Time Inc./Bloomberg veteran as a key adviser and put him in charge of hiring a new executive editor. But then Soon-Shiong announced that Pearlstine himself, at the incomparably experienced age of 75, would lead the Times’ fractured newsroom.

At the time, I wrote that:

It’s easy to look at the hiring of a New Yorker septuagenarian as less than au courant, and yes, the hiring of a younger, even female, editor-in-chief would have sent a far different message. But in hiring someone of Pearlstine’s long industry stature — The Wall Street Journal, Time Inc., and Bloomberg — the newbie publisher has hired someone who should be able to set up the new lines of church and state at the new Times properly. That’s no insignificant task. Soon-Shiong’s innovative medtech career has been all about crossing lines, and with Pearlstine, the Times’ staff and readers should be assured that the Times’ coverage won’t be bent to fit the owner’s own interests or beliefs.

Almost a year later, Pearlstine and his boss do seem have soothed the nerves of a newspaper with publishing PTSD, as I described Wednesday here at the Lab. Their first year of fast-paced transformation is just a beginning: On Monday, Patrick Soon-Shiong told me that Pearlstine had agreed to a new multi-year contract. That makes my conversation with the editor — a two-hour interview condensed here for length and clarity — all the more immediately relevant.

As he looks out at the endless sprawl from his seventh-floor office, Pearlstine — long fascinated with California as a place apart — thinks about that big Los Angeles mystery and how it intersects with the more quotidian decisions involved in publishing. “What is it about the place that has made it grow? Why is it so fascinating that the number of people leaving California is roughly matched by the people coming? It’s over-regulated, it’s over-taxed, the traffic kills you, and yet everybody wants to live here. So you have to capture that psychographic where we find the people who want to know about the subjects we have license to be the best at.”

At this point in the job, Pearlstine still has as many questions as answers about the L.A. Times’ strategy. Some observers may find that disappointing, expecting Pearlstine and his patron to proclaim a new theory of the Times case for the 2020s. But they’re clearly not in a hurry to do that. And why should they be? Soon-Shiong’s financial capacity, estimated at $7 billion or more — and more importantly, his willingness to invest in providing the luxury of time — are rare in any publishing business today. It’s not that you don’t feel an urgency around the L.A. Times — it’s just a measured urgency.

It’ll make sense to check in next year and see if Soon-Shiong, Pearlstine, and team have by then more clearly claimed strategic ground. Even an expanding L.A. Times — like the once-peers in New York and Washington that it would like to re-join — will have to say yes to some journalistic turf and no to others.

That team sits in fertile territory for ambition: a greater Southern California, 24 million people at its most expansive count, stretching from the Soon-Shiong-owned San Diego Union-Tribune north all the way to Santa Barbara. Then there’s California, which just passed 40 million in population.

As Soon-Shiong told me in an interview, the Times’ 157,000 digital subscribers is “not a good number” when compared to the vastness of the market — even if it’s by some margin the highest of any “local” paper in America.

In their early steps — starting by backfilling newsroom positions hollowed out in a decade of Tribune/Tronc mis-administration — Pearlstine and team are making new bets. Its expanding food coverage — intended to be both deeply L.A.-based and of global interest — is our best indicator of the sort of strategy the L.A. Times may pursue next. Here’s how Pearlstine, no lame duck with that multi-year contract, is laying a new foundation for the Times.

Ken Doctor: So let’s start with your big hiring binge.

Norm Pearlstine: I think we were was 400 when [Soon-Shiong] closed and another 125 in San Diego. We’re at 535 today — with an asterisk and the asterisk is that the 400 number excluded a fairly large number of contract writers, contract employees, who were doing a lot. So, the relevant comparison to 535 is probably 440 rather than 400, if that makes sense.

Doctor: So almost a hundred new people. Will there be more over the next year?

Pearlstine: I asked Patrick early on how big a staff he wanted, how many people we could hire, and he said, “That’s the wrong question. Tell me what the project is, and if I like it we’ll go forward, and if I don’t, we won’t.” And that’s how we’ve been operating. I’m a little bit torn because I don’t think I’ve ever met an executive who did a turnaround who looked back and said, “I went too fast.” So the pressure intention is to want to move quickly. But that said, I think we need a pause to just catch our breath and integrate.

When I look at what happened to the Register when [then Orange County Register owner Aaron] Kushner moved so fast, we need to see the implications of that. If you think about [Soon-Shiong’s] ambitions and what the brand lets you do, we need to do additional hiring as we roll out some of these products that we think will induce people to pay for content. What we’ve done over the last eight months has been to fill critical vacancies that had resulted from either layoff, buyouts, or attrition.

Doctor: Then there’s the transmedia floor he’s building. Patrick told me he’s got about 20 people he’s hired, or you’ve hired, and he’s going to hire another hundred. Are those considered newsroom people?

Pearlstine: I suspect they’re mostly engineers, designers, and developers who need to be working with news. That has not been the tradition here. It’s one thing to have separation between ad sales and news, but we had it all separate.

What’s exciting about the fifth floor is that it will be a place where it will facilitate a level of collaboration and, I believe, speed up our decision-making process. With a traditional media company, you can have well-defined lines as long as you’re doing the same thing every day. But when you’re trying to reinvent yourself, if you don’t have an ease of communication with IT and with your business counterparts, it doesn’t work.

Doctor: All of us in news know the line between advertising and editorial — that doesn’t change. [The L.A. Times had an infamous crossing of that line 20 years ago.] But this newer idea of cross-functional teams is now in place at The New York Times, the Post, the FT. Are you also physically embedding in the newsroom some of those people, or how do you think about it right now?

Pearlstine: It’s too soon to tell. I do think design has a huge impact on culture, and design thinking. Michelle [Soon-Shiong, Patrick’s wife], who is an important part of Patrick’s [team], like a true partner, she did the design of this building. Did a spectacular job with it. It’s still a work in progress, all of this. We’ve moved very quickly.

The food franchise

Doctor: In these first few months, you’ve made a few bets, like in food coverage. Where are you in terms of deciding which areas to put new resources?

Pearlstine: Given our ambitions, we do need to move quickly, because in the areas where we think we have license and where we want to excel — even as the industry is in decline, we have significant competition. At The Athletic, my old friend Paul Fichtenbaum [the startup’s chief content officer and Pearlstine’s former Time Inc. colleague] and his buddies doing are hiring a ton of people. I don’t know the business model well enough to know what they’re going.

Doctor: Well, it’s all reader revenue.

Pearlstine: I also don’t know whether the reader is someone who wants augmented coverage overall, or just wants his Eagles [or whatever other teams he supports]. All I know is we couldn’t make it work with Sports Illustrated, but Fichtenbaum was the editor there, too. I don’t know the backers, but he’s smart as hell. So we have competition there.

Doctor: How about in food? Because food is one of those areas where you’ve started to stick out again.

Pearlstine: We have, but again, not only with the legacy product but with new things that have come along and bloggers. We had a spectacular food critic in Jonathan Gold and our plan was to build a lot around him, and he died tragically of pancreatic cancer — the thing that Patrick spends so much time thinking about how to cure. We not only were devastated personally but professionally, trying to figure out where do we go from here.

There is no greater priority for 2019 than to build upon the legacy of what Jonathan Gold brought to us. As part of it, we want to be the world’s best source of news and information about food — specifically from California and the West, but on a global basis. Jonathan Gold was a force within the Los Angeles Times and within Los Angeles.

He was called a food critic, but he was really an anthropologist who in many ways did more to pull the city together than anyone I know as a journalist, maybe with the possible exception of Steve Lopez.

Jonathan was one of those people who could write about the best soup bones in a restaurant in San Gabriel in a way that, even if you were not likely to drive to San Gabriel, you felt connected to a community that included that restaurant. With his death, we had to rethink all of our plans. No one person who could replace him, but there were many things we could do to build on that legacy.

His wife, Laurie Ochoa, is a senior editor in our Calendar department, and in those few weeks between the time that Jonathan was diagnosed as having a very late-stage pancreatic cancer and his death, he and Laurie talked about how they thought the person who most understood what Jonathan meant to accomplish was Peter Meehan. Most recently, he had a magazine called Lucky Peach, and if you were a foodie you knew Lucky Peach is the hottest magazine around, that not only was doing innovative coverage of food but was designed to look and feel like something new and exciting and multi-platform. Lucky Peach was a project that Peter did with David Chang.

Peter’s now our food editor and has a wonderful sensibility and understanding. Bill Addison, who was the national food critic for Eater, came in and has hit the ground running. He had a very tough but quite brilliant review of a restaurant called Simone last week, which is very different from anything we’ve done before. We hired a young critic [Patricia Escárcega] out of Phoenix. She’s very strong on Mexican from Veracruz to Vancouver. But she’s also doing other things. She did a review of a Laotian barbecue restaurant that was just terrific. Unfortunately, it’s like 60 miles from here in East L.A.

Doctor: In L.A., that’s just a drive for lunch.

Pearlstine: It’s lunch if you don’t come back.

We’re building a state-of-the-art test kitchen on the ground floor here, with a video studio where we’ll be able to film things. I was just looking at the blueprints for it today. I think it’ll be a year before it’s done, but very exciting.

Doctor: Then there’s Kimi Yoshino’s role.

Pearlstine: Kimi Yoshino leads that [the food rebuilding, as part of her portfolio as a senior deputy managing editor]. She is one of the true heroines of this organization.

I’ve known Lewis a long time. [Lewis D’Vorkin was the short-time Times editor who escorted Yoshino out of the newsroom shortly before being ousted himself.] We get along. I hired and fired him at the Journal, and then he was editor-in-chief of AOL when I was at Time Inc. I consider him a friend.

But on Kimi, for reason I don’t fully understand, he was very down on her. He tried to run her out of the place. She is as good a manager as I’ve met, and I asked her to figure out what we needed to do to rebuild food — and at this point, we have the best food team in the country, 11 people.

Doctor: Will the new test kitchen involve your new partnership with Spectrum Cable [with which the Times is now producing a one-hour nightly news program]?

Pearlstine: Next to the food studio, we’ll have a television studio for the Spectrum show, but which can be used for other things. The Spectrum show has seven seven-minute segments a night, and we’ll certainly want to make lifestyle an important part of that, and so food is already sort of showing up there. Andrea Chang, who was an editor in the business section, has eaten at 95 of Jonathan’s top 101 top restaurants. So she’s become deputy food editor.

And I didn’t mention it but Lucas Peterson is doing food tourism for videos. He’s from Los Angeles and very strong on Asian food; a lot of his family is Asian. So it’s a great team.

Now, I have done food before. Food & Wine, Cooking Light [both at Time Inc.]. I worked in Birmingham. We built a floor of 20 test kitchens with video. I worked with Dana Cowin at Food & Wine and then with her successor. At Time Inc., at one point, we had 154 magazines, so it’s hard to find a subject that I haven’t had some exposure to.

The hiring market

Doctor: In the final months of Tronc ownership, people at The New York Times and The Washington Post would tell me: “We’re about done hiring. We’ve hired the people that we want from the L.A. Times.” That may have been an overstatement, but some of this place’s best journalists had been hired away. As you hire up again, I’m assuming it’s a buyer’s market at this point, given the general state of journalism.

Pearlstine: Yes and no. First of all, I think in the case of The New York Times in their efforts of poaching our staff, I’ve seen no fall off at all. I think the big difference is we’re fighting back, and we’ve been able to hold onto the people we wanted to hold on to. I think we’ve become a magnet for talent in ways that we couldn’t be before, given all the turmoil.

You’re absolutely right about the timing, and in fact, if Patrick had bought this thing three months earlier, things might be quite different. But losing someone like Kim Murphy, who was the foreign editor and went to The New York Times, or Cathy Decker, after 40 years of covering politics, who went to The Washington Post — those were serious losses and we shouldn’t underestimate it.

In the months since then, there have been a couple of examples where The Washington Post has gone after people, but The New York Times is much more persistent than the Post. It’s not like it was when we took over — we fight hard to keep our people.

What you’re right and wrong about is, with all of the layoffs of BuzzFeed and McClatchy [and more], there are a number of people on the market. That said, in the areas that we have defined as priorities, we’re not alone. So if you think that politics is going to be important with 2020, and with The Atlantic now owned by Emerson Collective — Vernon Loeb I think has a mandate. They’ve hired 100 people at The Atlantic. The Washington Post and others continue to hire in this space — Politico, Axios, others.

In sports, The Athletic has been trying to raid everybody across the country, including us, so that’s a very competitive area. Entertainment, with Penske adding Variety, Headline, Hollywood Reporter, and again The New York Times — very aggressive in this area. Vanity Fair’s still hiring here. I think we can still hire into Metro from other places — but it’s competitive in many of the places we want to grow.

L.A. yes, but what about that wider world

Doctor: As you’re rebuilding, you’re recognizing that there are very smart readers throughout L.A., and California, and that you’re trying to bring the sensibilities of the way the world works today into that.

Pearlstine: As much as we have aspirations to be a national and global voice, we know that there a very large percentage of our current and future readers will be reading this for news of Los Angeles, Southern California, and California. At the same time, the psychographic that we talk about says to you that geography is only part of that equation, and that the subject matter that our audiences care about ranges from environment to immigration to housing to healthcare — and then those things that I think where we are really a global force, in entertainment, in food, in sports, in lifestyle.

A dozen years ago, the L.A. Times had a staff roughly the same size as The New York Times — but now it’s a third of the size. John Carroll left at the end of 2005, then the staff was taken from 1,250 to 1,175.

When it was 1,250, it was roughly the same size [as The New York Times]. That was a carryover from the Chandler years and so forth. Six years ago, we were bigger than The Washington Post.

We are bigger than any metro paper. I’d say we’re the largest newsroom west of the Hudson. West of the Potomac.

Doctor: You’ve got the same question before you and Patrick that those papers have faced over many years — how local, how national, and now, given the web, how global should you be. How will you now tackle that question?

Pearlstine: Part of that is that we’re not just another urban newspaper with a mandate to go hyperlocal. Los Angeles is a global city and I think it gives us both the opportunity and, frankly, the obligation to be strong on the geographic population. But there’s a psychographic that cares about California, that cares about what we do.

So, today, arguably we’re the food capital of the country, the art capital of the country. With 11 major league teams in Los Angeles and Orange County, the sports capital — and entertainment, of course. We’ve never — I shouldn’t say never, because there have been good periods in the Los Angeles Times history — but entertainment was never as critical to this publication as it should have been.

Doctor: Right. It didn’t seize entertainment the way that Mercury News tried to seize technology.

Pearlstine: Right. I first applied for a job with The Los Angeles Times in 1972, when Bill Thomas had come in as editor. I was covering entertainment for The Wall Street Journal here in Los Angeles. I’ve lived here twice before, you know. And then when I was with Time Inc., I was out here a lot. I thought I was getting scoops in entertainment, and I couldn’t figure out why, because I figured The Los Angeles Times [would be better positioned].

Doctor: So in entertainment now, people noticed your hiring of Slate’s Julia Turner.

Pearlstine: I’m so happy about this. Julia Turner is terrific. We had two interesting things happen. Mary McNamara, who is one of my favorite writers on the paper, had become Calendar editor, but her real desire was to go back to writing, and the first day we met that’s what she told me. I just said well, “You have to hang in, because it’s not an easy job to fill.”

Julia Turner had spent her life at Slate, for 14 years, the last four as editor-in-chief. We had met, but I didn’t fully appreciate that she had come up on the culture side. She started the Gabfest podcast, which she’s still doing. She’s phenomenal, and she brings that digital urgency and a metabolism.

So she’s talking to [movie critic] Justin Chang about the Oscars and his picks and who he thought would win. And Green Book came up, and he said he thought it had a fair chance. He also said that it would be the worst best picture since Crash. So she said: Why don’t you write that now, and if it happens, we can put it up, you know, a minute later? That led to the traffic and to controversy.

Sewell Chan [the Times’ new deputy managing editor for news] has that same kind of metabolism.

Doctor: As you said, you’ve had a view of the L.A. news business for a while.

Pearlstine: Second time I applied for a job here was when Tom Johnson was publisher in 1980, and I was here for Forbes. But when I was with Carlyle, I spent several months looking at Tribune, at the Los Angeles Times. And I think you may know, John Carroll [then the top editor] and I were at college together at Haverford and ran the Haverford News. He was as close a friend as I had in the business for 45 years.

So I’ve thought about this a long time. I said to Patrick: Better late than never, I finally got a job here.

But when I look at it some of the things — as I said, geographic and psychographic — I also look at where do we have license to be the best, where do we have license to compete, where can we be different from those other publications you mentioned.

First of all, we’re not another urban newspaper. Los Angeles, first of all, it’s the county and not the city that matters. It’s 88 municipalities, and Orange County is another 48. We once had an Orange County edition that had 200 people — it’s now at four or five. We’ll build that back up, but not to 200.

We really have to, first of all, be very good about Southern California. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have ambitions to come grow here. I don’t think we’d try to compete head-to-head on their turf. I think what we have to do is double down on the geographic stories.

Doctor: What does that mean, like in terms of the 88 municipalities?

Pearlstine: Let me get to that. So I don’t think you can do hyperlocal with 88. You can try — pick Long Beach and try something — but my guess is it’s not a smart way to go. What I do think is that there are categories and subjects that cut across the region that you can focus on and focus on better than anyone else.

Then there’s the opportunity that 2020 and the election gives us. March 3, 2020 is the California primary; it’s not in June this time. I do believe that whoever wins that primary has a very good chance to determine who the next president is. And yet the lens through which we can look at the national story, to me, is California vs. the White House and vice versa. And that lays down precisely where those categories are that I think bring this region together.

If you think about environment, if you think about immigration, if you think about mobility, if you think about education, if you think about health care, if you think about technology, if you think about LGBTQ, if you think about the sensibility of Hollywood and its implications for society — every one of those is something that is critically important to the region.

If you define environment to include energy, fossil and alternative, as well as mobility and traffic and so forth. If you think about immigration, as [Governor Gavin] Newsom has declared it, not only a sanctuary city but a sanctuary state, where the National Guard gets pulled away from the border. If you think about single-parent health care, you think about reproductive rights. Pick a subject. When the attorney general of California files more than three dozen lawsuits against the EPA, that’s a story that’s of relevance to our audience, to people in California who care about California, and it’s a place where I think we can distinguish ourselves from everybody else.

Do we think 2020 is the election of our life? And you have the 2020s. And we have Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy. It’s the California Congress in the House.

Doctor: So you build up in those categories to different degrees — because you can’t do it all at one time — that contributes to this horizontal coverage for, mainly, for Southern California. There’s California as a whole, and then the West Coast as a whole.

Pearlstine: And the West Coast. So Latin America and the Pacific Rim matter. The Chinese Consul General here is a very important diplomat because they have 50,000 students in Southern California. I think Sacramento is the great uncovered story. People in Los Angeles don’t talk about Sacramento. But we have a nine-person bureau. We’re the biggest bureau.

Doctor: What do you think all that gets you? Part of it is a certain standing, where I see you basically reasserting the L.A. Times as a serious player, clearly in L.A., but on the national stage too. Now, why is “national” important, because that’s not as specific to revenue, right?

Pearlstine: So why did Patrick buy it? Well, he wants to run it as a business. He’s a business guy. But he clearly bought it with a sense of legacy, a sense of public service, of what does it mean in a democracy. What kind of informed citizens do you want to have? He also believes in things like inspiration and innovation. It’s not just being a critic.

I think a second answer to the question is that we have an audience that includes people who are citizens of the world.

Third, I would say that one of the places that we’ve not been successful is in becoming an essential read or community for large numbers of immigrants. They are now such an important part of this population. We have an opportunity to be better read and understood among Hispanic Americans, including more recent ones. Last February, we started Los Angeles Times en Español. A free sheet that goes out — 850,000 copies. It’s in bodegas, it’s all over, and it’s translation largely. Newsprint. I think 12 to 16 pages. It’s free. It’s not the answer, but I’m just saying it’s a start.

There’s a very large Korean-American population, a very large Vietnamese-American population, and I don’t think it’s an easy one for us to penetrate, but I do think that some of it involves covering Asia. We now have two people in Beijing, we re-opened Seoul, we have two people in Mexico, and then we put two people in Singapore to cover ASEAN and South Asia.

One in Seoul. Two in Beijing. Two in Singapore. Two in Mexico City and one in Beirut. Then Mitchell Landsberg, who does foreign, has contract writers all over the place.

What is local?

Doctor: Let’s talk local.

Pearlstine: There are certain things where it’s very local. but the conversations are different here than on the East Coast.

Here’s the thing that’s interesting. When I first got here it had big companies and if you talked oil there was Arco, Unocal, Oxy Pete [Occidental Petroleum]. If you talked defense, it was Lockheed, Northrop, North American Rockwell. If you talked banks, Security Pacific, and B of A was bigger here than in San Francisco. Today, I think Disney is the only truly global company of scale here. And then maybe Mattel, but they’re not really. So what is it about the place that has made it grow? Why is it so fascinating that the number of people leaving California is roughly matched by the people coming? It’s over-regulated, it’s over-taxed, the traffic kills you, and yet everybody wants to live here. So you have to capture that psychographic, where we find the people who want to know about the subjects we have license to be the best at.

Doctor: I grew up here. This place has always been about change. When you say as many people leaving as coming, people could have all kinds of interpretations. There are affordability issues, but it’s also about people coming out here to stake out new identities.

Pearlstine: Take Eli Broad, who was an accountant in Southfield, Michigan who came here to build modular homes. Kaufman and Broad — I covered them in 1969 at the National Association of Home Builders in Houston, Texas — to Sun Life, to AIG, to being the biggest force in art, maybe in the world. Where else can that happen?

That’s why I’ve tried to get a job here. When I first moved here, I had been covering labor in Detroit, and I got here in December of 1971. I found a two-bedroom apartment on the beach in Malibu for $300 a month. I came back six years later, after Japan and Hong Kong, and I couldn’t afford to live anywhere near the beach, and it took me 45 minutes to get to Century City when I was at Forbes. So that’s how it’s changed.

I hate to shoot myself in the foot with this stuff, but the night of the Golden Globes, I was looking at my phone and, and we were killing everybody. We were out front, we were ahead, we were fantastic. Julia was just doing all this stuff.

I went to Google and I typed in “Golden Globes” and you couldn’t find a Los Angeles Times story. It was partly because we have Arc. We have Arc from The Washington Post — but we have Arc by way of Chicago [Tribune Publishing’s headquarters] because they have the license. We have underinvestment.

Doctor: And that’s what screwed up the SEO?

Pearlstine: A lot of [the Times’ technology stack is] still in Chicago. I don’t want to be attacking Arc — it’s not Arc. It an error of underinvestment. Look, any one of these systems works well, if you have the engineers to work with it.

[In fact, the relationships between Tribune/Tronc/L.A. Times and Arc have been difficult from the beginning. After Tribune’s “underinvestment” (and perhaps Arc’s growing pains), Soon-Shiong’s companies are clearly moving on, having announced one Wednesday a new CMS which will replace Arc at the San Diego Union-Tribune, and which will presumably be introduced at the Times sooner than later.]

On meeting Soon-Shiong

Doctor: How did you connect with Patrick?

Pearlstine: Patrick and I met having a discussion about VR and commerce solutions for media companies. 2013. I had just returned to Time Inc., and I was looking for a commerce solution for InStyle, whose digital traffic was minuscule. This was when PopSugar, Refinery29, these new bloggers were all sort of moving forward and we were not.

I had heard about a company in West L.A. called Nant Media. I knew nothing about it except the owner was a guy named Patrick Soon-Shiong, and that he had put a popup supermarket in his office and then had people going around with smartphones, taking pictures of things they had hoped would be at the checkout counter when they got there.

I was looking at InStyle. This is a publication whose readers tear pages out of it every issue and then try to figure out how to buy the garment they’re looking at. I thought that if we had a commerce solution, then that would be interesting.

It turned out that didn’t work, but I met Patrick. I only learned then that this was a sideline for someone who had been very successful doing medical research.

When I quit The Wall Street Journal back in 1992, pre-Internet, I said I was quitting because I really wanted to focus on the migration of content from print to electronic distribution. I had no idea what the hell I was talking about, but that was my reason for leaving. In some ways, this has come back.

Doctor: So now you’re applying technology in ways you never dreamed of 25 years ago.

Pearlstine: First of all, let’s say that digital is an important component, but it’s not the only one — because I actually think that events and video and podcasts will be as important as driving digital subscriptions.

In digital, I’m one of those who believes that push is our best opportunity, not pull. What that means, is that you’re not going to draw — as much as we may pride ourselves — on our own page and on desktop and on the electronic version of our print edition available on an iPad. Most people are going to be getting their information from mobile. Go to any airport, and see who has a magazine in their hands, or a newspaper, and who’s looking at their phones, and I think you answer that.

When I think about push, I not only think about social, and all the things you have to do with Apple and Google and Facebook and so forth, but I also very much think about newsletters and alerts and about ways in which we get people to our content, even if they’re not necessarily looking for us. That not only has implications for the way you create the product, but obviously over time you have to have a CMS and other technologies that enable you to get your content to consumers when they want it.

Doctor: And be able to track it, and make the right offers, and that whole line of things.

Pearlstine: If you have a food service, you need to have buttons for OpenTable and Resy and Yelp as part of it. You have to have aggregation. It’s very much a part of your product. That’s true across the board.

Again, to come back to food, if you think that push is what’s important, if you realize that with voice recognition, I’m not going to necessarily say: “Los Angeles Times recipe for Shepherd’s Pie.” I’m just going to say: “Alexa, recipe for Shepherd’s Pie.” You need to be able to find your customers and push to them.

[curatewp section=”doctor-lat”]

Photo of Pearlstine at the 2016 DLD conference in Munich by Tobias Hase/AP.

POSTED     March 29, 2019, 2:46 p.m.
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Plus: News participation is declining, online and offline; making personal phone calls could help with digital-subscriber churn; and partly automated news videos seem to work with audiences.