Another Head Rolls At The Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Times is about to get its fourth editor in less than three years. News has leaked from the Times’ newsroom that editor James O’Shea has been sacked for the same reason three of his predecessors were ushered out. O’Shea, who was air-dropped in from the Chicago hive to replace Dean Baquet, was cut for his unwillingness to implement further cuts to the paper’s budget. Publisher David Hiller, another Chicago transplant has been having trouble finding pigeons to carry out his executions.

After three departures that hinged on an editor’s perception that the paper’s viability would suffer under the the publisher’s proposed budget, you might think that someone in the executive suite would set down his martini long enough to become curious as to why all of these editors would prefer to be fired than to go along with draconian cuts.

While each of the former editors had persuasive arguments for retaining, or even expanding, the newsroom’s budget, O’Shea may have had an even better case. He was looking forward to a year that included a presidential campaign as well as the Olympics. That seems like an inopportune time to be pinching pennies. At the time that Baquet was jettisoned, I criticized the move and mocked O’Shea as another corporate ringer brought in to wield the ax. Imagine my surprise to read O’Shea’s farewell message that included this choice morsel:

“Journalists and not accountants should seize responsibility for the financial health of our newspapers so journalists can make decisions about the size of our staffs and how much news remains in our papers and web sites […] When this industry stops relying so much on cuts and starts investing in Journalism, it will prosper because it will be serving the best interests of our readers.”

These actions on the part of the Times’ parent company, Tribune, are neo-Nixonian in that they emulate the famous Saturday Night Massacre. That was the affair where Nixon had to keep firing Justice Department chiefs until he found one that would carry out his order to whack independent counsel Archibald Cox (Robert Bork turned out to be the willing trigger man). Tribune has had to keep fishing for an editor to do their dirty work. O’Shea was their golden boy who was editing the Chicago Tribune before taking the assignment in L. A. But editors here are apparently as expendable as starlets. Now another has fallen, but not nearly as far as the quality and credibility of the Times.

The Last Straw At The Los Angeles Times

The Wall Street Journal (via L.A. Observed) just reported that the Los Angeles Times has fired its editor, Dean Baquet. The Times parent, Tribune Company, has been on a mission to eviscerate what remains of the paper by slashing personnel. A month ago they fired the publisher, Jeff Johnson, for refusing to go along with the cuts. Baquet tenuously agreed to stay on in the hopes that he could forestall any further newsroom terminations.

The new publisher, David Hiller, made the announcement after the news was leaked to the Journal. This smells like an attempt to lose the story in the thick of election night madness. But this story is only going to grow. After the Johnson firing, three top editors (Doug Frantz, Leo Wolinsky, and John Montorio) promised to resign if management pushed Baquet out as well. We’ll see if they are true to their words.

Baquet will be replaced by James O’Shea, managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, where Hiller had come from. Obviously they are stuffing the deck with ringers from the home office, probably with the intent to sell the hollowed-out shell of a newspaper to another hack conglomerate. It’s unclear what they will have to offer a buyer without an editorial staff.

They won’t have much of a subscriber base either. For the six-month period ending September 2006, the Times circulation delined 8%, the largest drop in the industry. And they are about to lose even more. Aside from me, there is already a Subscriber Revolt site set up to put the paper on notice. Here is an excerpt of the letter you can send via this site:

“I am a Los Angeles Times reader who has watched with dismay the attempts of the Tribune Co. to squeeze ever-higher profits from my newspaper by slashing its ability to gather and publish news…..The Times is our irreplaceable civic resource, and I will not sit back as you dismantle it.”

The letter includes an explicit threat to cancel by December 31, if Baquet is not reinstated and other remedial steps are not taken. I’m not sure I can wait that long.

This paper can be saved if Tribune would sell it to local operators. There has been interest from folks like Eli Broad, Ron Burkle and David Geffen. Any one of them would be an improvement over Tribune. An even better plan would be for an academic institution to purchase the paper and run it as a not-prifit. But it will never be worth a damn if Tribune is allowed to carry out its destructive and short-sighted agenda.

And we can stop them: Subscriber Revolt