Tensions Erupt at Los Angeles Times as Owner Weighs Deep Cuts

Around twilight on Thursday, Los Angeles Times journalists gathered at Flora, a rooftop bar not far from the paper’s headquarters, to toast their departing editor, Kevin Merida.

As reporters and editors sipped cocktails under a darkening sky, the talk was focused on why Mr. Merida, the paper’s editor for nearly three years, had decided to suddenly leave — and about the prospect of deep layoffs discussed in emergency meetings earlier that day, according to four attendees.

In the days since, internal negotiations between the company and the employee union have included talk of about 100 job cuts, or about 20 percent of the newsroom, according to two of the people, who also have knowledge about the discussions. It has put journalists at The Times at odds with their owner, the biotechnology billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong. Those relations reached a nadir on Friday when employees walked off the job, in the newsroom’s first union-organized work stoppage in the 142-year history of the newspaper.

The tensions escalated even further on Monday, after several of the state’s congressional representatives sent Dr. Soon-Shiong a letter raising concerns about the scope of the cuts and employees received a note informing them that two other senior editors had departed.

A spokeswoman for the company, Hillary Manning, had no comment on tensions in the newsroom or the scope of the proposed cuts but said in a statement that the newspaper appreciated “the concerns elected officials have expressed regarding the anticipated layoffs.”

She added that The Los Angeles Times had appealed to lawmakers to pass legislation that could help address financial challenges faced by local news publishers.

“We have made it very clear, to many of these same lawmakers, over the past several years the existential crisis local news publishers face,” she said. “The Los Angeles Times faces economic challenges as acute as any.”

Major layoffs at The Times, the largest news organization on the West Coast, would be the latest in a series of bad news for the publishing industry, which is facing gale-force economic headwinds. In addition to The Times, The Washington Post and Time magazine collectively lost tens of millions of dollars last year, despite having billionaire owners who have invested deeply in their newsrooms. Cultural touchstones like Pitchfork and Sports Illustrated haven’t been spared either, with both publications announcing significant cuts in recent weeks.

When Dr. Soon-Shiong bought the paper in 2018, The Los Angeles Times reported that its newsroom included about 400 people, with roughly 138,000 digital subscribers. Journalists, who had been beleaguered by years of corporate infighting and cost cutting, welcomed a wealthy owner who said he was committed to investing. Over the course of two years, about 150 new journalists were hired, and the paper reinvested in coverage of foreign news and expanded its digital presence.

But in June, The Times shed 74 newsroom roles, or about 13 percent of its work force, in the first major cuts under Dr. Soon-Shiong’s ownership. Losing an additional 20 percent of the newsroom would return it to roughly the same staffing levels as when Dr. Soon-Shiong bought the company.

The Times has lost money for years, and writers’ and actors’ strikes in Hollywood last year sapped additional ad revenue. By the middle of the year, The Times was on a pace to lose $30 million to $40 million, and the newspaper fell short of its subscription targets, setting the stage for further cost cutting.

Before the scope of the cuts became public, Mr. Merida announced his exit. His departure came after tension with members of the Soon-Shiong family over editorial and business priorities, including the 2024 budget and a decision by Mr. Merida to bar employees who signed a letter protesting Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas from covering the conflict with Gaza.

On the day of the strike, as journalists picketed in front of The Times’s headquarters, they discovered they had been locked out of their corporate email and Slack accounts, according to three current employees. Their access was restored over the weekend, the people said.

Mr. Merida’s departure has left a void in senior management that has expanded over the last week. Two top editors have since announced their departures: Shani Hilton and Sara Yasin, both managing editors. The two were part of a team of four editors overseeing the paper after Mr. Merida’s exit. Semafor earlier reported on their departures.

“This is a passionate and proud newsroom, and I do believe that fierce love for journalism and the paper is what will ensure its future,” Ms. Yasin wrote to colleagues on Monday.

Later on Monday, Julia Turner, a senior editor, emailed the newsroom and said that she and Scott Kraft, another senior editor, were “now responsible for all editorial operations.” She added that “we’re advocating for editorial interests in conversations with the company about the financial crisis we face.”

The leadership exits prompted some employees to circulate an image that included headshots of departed editors — including Mr. Merida, Ms. Hilton and Ms. Yasin — alongside other leaders of the newspaper in a grid labeled “masthead bingo.”

The letter to Dr. Soon-Shiong from lawmakers, including Representatives Adam Schiff, Jimmy Gomez and Ted Lieu, expressed concern over the effect the cuts could have on the community.

“We urge all parties to reach a consensus to avoid a drastic measure that would harm the outlet’s ability to report on important news in our city and nationwide,” the letter read.

Sumber: www.nytimes.com

Related posts