where the writers are

Q: Did Murray and Otis Chandler have a good relationship?


A: Yes, Otis was in on the general hiring of Murray. It was down to Murray and Mel Durslag, then with the Los Angeles Herald-Express. He liked something about Murray. Durslag was better known as a writer. He was syndicated whereby Jim was with Sports Illustrated, but not featured as a “star” yet. Durslag was under contract and getting him to come over was problematic, which was a reason he was not hired, but as I recall Otis Chandler settled on Jim Murray and got him.


A: The sports section separated the paper from other papers. This may sound self-serving but it was - and still is, relatively - an incredibly good product. It’s not as good as it once was. We all know that. What we did was not to be arrogant about sports. We were intelligent. The section never looked down its nose upon sports. We spent money on sports. In the hey day, the New York Times did not spend money comparably, but our attitude, our approach separated us from them.

            This was one of the ways Otis Chandler, a former jock, saw the growth of the paper. I did the 1984 Olympics. That’s why they brought me in. The New York Times thought our approach was excessive, but Otis didn’t care. I lived during the golden age of that paper. We were not provincial, while everything about the New York Times sports section, ironically, was provincial. They were living in the past, thinking of New York City as the sports capitol, but that was a thing of the past and the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics symbolized that. Otis knew it and spent money to take full advantage of that. It was our finest hour.

            Today, the paper worships at the altar of the Dodgers, Lakers and USC. There is no space now to add what we used to do. We’ve reverted to being the opposite of what we were then. We currently do that but in the old days we covered all that and more, we covered all sports. The ’84 Olympics was our masterpiece. We set the agenda. Every day in that era we produced a massive volume of sports information every day. Daily for years we produced the best sports stories anywhere with little regard for length or space or money constraints. Otis just said, “Keep going, kid.”


Q: In your honest opinion did the L.A. Times ever ascend to being the "best newspaper in the world"?


A: Yes. In the world? I can say for sure we were the best in the country. I guess I’d say it had to be in the 1980s and early 1990s. Maybe the London Times. I can’t say because of the language barrier, who knows, maybe some of the Chinese papers were equal . . .

            There’s one more story. It was 1986-87, the Super Bowl played at the Rose Bowl between the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos. In those days the Super Bowl was played at the Rose Bowl regularly, and we were spending money like there was no tomorrow. We wanted something different, so I was authorized to hire a prominent non-sports writer to write articles from the Super Bowl, a prominent, world-class author. I hired Leon Uris, who wrote Exodus about the creation of the state of Israel. I think we paid him $5,000 apiece for 3,000 words each.

            So we send him down to Newport Beach where the teams trained, and we brought in his young wife to shoot photos, and he wrote some advance pieces. Now we get to the day of the game. Uris is sitting in the press box. We’ve got 15 people covering every angle. Uris is sitting next to Jack Smith and Jim Murray, two esteemed writers. The Broncos lost big to the Giants.

            I’m running around, making sure I don’t have guys writing the same thing. Everything’s running smooth except for Uris. I look over and I see him over there next to Murray, typing and humming away. Murray and Smith, two pros in their element. Finally, the game ends, the interviews are conducted, and it’s getting towards deadline. Smith and Murray are finished and packed. I go to Uris, I ask how he’s doing. He’s got three or four graphs. He just looks up at me and says, “I can’t do this.”

            This guy wrote long novels that took years, two or three years in some cases, research and contemplation, but he was too intimidated by Jim Murray. Murray had trouble seeing, the game was boring, and Uris sat next to him all game while Jim tried to come up with a column. Then all of a sudden when the heat was on Jim just pounded one out and Uris is sitting there, unbelievably intimidated. He spent two or three years to write the kind of stuff he did. I had to write the last 18 graphs for him. Considering his normal material, and Jim’s penchant for historical and Biblical references, he should have written something like, “As with the parting of the Red Sea the Denver Broncos’ defense opened up while the New York Giants proceeded to pass through, but when John Elway and Denver tried to advance they were swallowed up by waves of Bill Parcels’ defenders . . .”   


Q: What was the general attitude at the Times after the Chandler admonition over the Staples deal, and especially after the sale to the Tribune? Was there a feeling that something was lost that could never be regained?


A: We did not think that way at the time. We were so used to success and unable to imagine the horrors ahead. Now we’re living them, but at the time we had no frame of reference as to what might come up when we were purchased.