William Dean Singleton is Vice Chairman and CEO of MediaNews Group, Inc. He owns dozens of newspapers -- most notably the Denver Post, but also the Los Angeles area newspaper chain where I got my start.
As a former employee of Mr. Singleton's Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and San Bernardino Sun, I feel it is my duty to tell him that one of his properties, the Web site LA.com, is atrocious. It vexes me every time I look at it. Here you have a domain name that anyone would envy, a site that could bolster Southern California revenues and help fund good journalism if only the content were halfway decent.
Instead the site is a hilarious parody of what clueless middle-aged media company vice-presidents imagine that young people want to read. As I write this, for example, the flash player on the front page is scrolling through 5 categories of content. The chosen categories: "Panini, sex, film, travel, sushi."
Let's investigate further. Say you go to the site hoping to find a good Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica. Using the not-very-user-friendly search function, you execute a wide search -- show me every Mexican restaurant in the area! Apparently there are four Mexican restaurants to choose from in Santa Monica. How could I not return to LA.com next time I'm looking for someplace to dine?
The larger problem on the site is that every single thing it attempts to do is done much better by numerous other Web sites. Yeah, I could look at the photo gallery from a recent poker party at the Playboy mansion, but if I want to look at playmates (or poker players) why would I possibly go to LA.com?
Or consider the celebrity gossip section. The lead item is pegged to the series finale of The Gilmore Girls. It aired May 15, 2007. I am not making this up.
I'll not belabor the point. Browse the other sections yourself if you doubt that each one is laughably bad. I'd laugh too were it not for the fact that newsroom cuts are happening all over Southern California -- which is no surprise for a company that turns its most promising Web property into what LA.com currently is.
Given the size of the company, perhaps no one has pointed this out to Mr. Singleton before. Now there's no excuse not to do better. I had a great experience as an employee there. I sure do want the company to succeed. But I am less than optimistic about its prospects.