L.A. Times Admits Online Errors, Vows to Change

The Los Angeles Times Online will roll out two new e-commerce-oriented verticals in the midst of a ripping internal report that says its online strategy is nowhere near where it needs to be for the paper to have a future, according to an article by James Rainey in today’s paper. The verticals are a new SoCal-focused travel Web site and a revised entertainment guide, apparently with booking capabilities.

But the new products come amid the realization that the gravy that online represents isn’t enough to make up for the paper’s overall revenue decline. Print auto advertising, for instance, “will be about $47 million less this year than it was in 2004.” The article goes on to note that “only about half that loss will be recovered with new online ads.” Overall, the newspaper’s Web ops bring in about $60 million of the Times’ $1.1 billion annual revenues.

The article also cites a new internal report finding that the online division only has 18 employees, compared with 200 employees at WashingtonPost.com and 50 at NYTimes.com. The understaffing has led to a poor quality Web site that, in part, accounts for users only staying 11.9 minutes on the site, compared with twice that long on nytimes.com.

The internal report goes on to cite a debilitating philosophical clash between GM Rob Barrett and online executive editor Joel Sappell. Barrett wanted the site to focus on hyper-local reports to deliver SoCal readers information about their communities. Sappell argued for building “communities of affinity” rather than geography.

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