June 2012
Billie Silvey
What Makes a
Great Newspaper?
My husband Frank and I came to Los Angeles during the
summer of 1965, the summer of the Watts Riots.  We
arrived on the old Pepperdine campus to find it under
curfew.  We had to be in by 8:00 p.m.

By the election of 1968, Frank was on an aircraft carrier in
the Gulf of Tonkin.  The night of the Democratic primaries, I
was in bed listening to the returns when I learned of the
death of Robert Kennedy at the nearby Ambassador Hotel.  
I could hear a chorus of sirens.

It was one of those times when the earth seemed to open
up, and you weren't sure where to stand.  Still, every
morning, the
Los Angeles Times was there to reassure us
that life was going on in the city around us.

Later, I watched a demonstration by African-American
students who occupied the administration building on
campus. Frightened administrators overreacted by calling
out the LAPD.  The police stood stiffly in line, facing the
campus--a row of trained adults, anonymous in uniform with
guns, guarding us from a ragtag group of unarmed students.

All that time, I was writing articles about campus activities
(the official ones, not what was really going on) as assistant
director of public information at Pepperdine University.  My
greatest achievements were when I got articles in the

By this time, the
Times was one of the great newspapers in
the nation.  You could count on it for accuracy and
It had fact-checkers and drew a bright line between the
factual news and the more partisan editorial pages.

Times staff covered all the news in the city, including
minority neighborhoods, and the diversity of the city was
reflected in the diversity of their staff.   They also covered
state, natonal and international news.

They adhered to the best practices of journalistic ethics.  
They remained objective, factual and informative.

They respected us, their readers, by trusting us to make up
our minds on the basis of fact.  They reserved entertainment
for the comics and commentary for the editorial pages.  
Their use of the language was exemplary.

They showed compassion for the powerless, respect for
privacy and good taste.

Times is still delivered to our house every morning.  It's
lighter newspaper today.  The very technological advances
that made it easier to gather and disseminate the news have
fractured its audience, fracturing our sense of unity and
community and driving newspapers out of business.

Rather than a single voice uniting us, we now have myriad
voices vying for our attention.  Rather than an ethical source
seeking to inform, today's news sources have a variety of
agendas.  Rather than accuracy, salesmanship prevails.

Older people have always longed for a simpler past.  I long
for the complexity of Otis Chandler and the
Los Angeles
June 2012
Norman Chandler
Otis Chandler