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LA Times Editor Forced Out

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Los Angeles Times Editor Forced Out

By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

January 21, 2008 New York Times

The top editor of The Los Angeles Times has been forced out for

resisting newsroom budget cuts, executives at the paper said Sunday,

marking the fourth time in less than three years that the

highest-ranking editor or the publisher has left for that reason.

The removal of the editor, James E. O’Shea, by the publisher, David D.

Hiller, mirrors the odd spectacle of a little more than a year ago,

when the previous publisher, Jeffrey M. Johnson, was fired for refusing

to eliminate newsroom jobs as directed by the paper’s owner, the

Tribune Company. In each case, a longtime Tribune executive was

expected to rein in costs at the paper, but instead sided with the

newsroom and lost his job for it.

The departure of Mr. O’Shea appears to contradict statements by Samuel

Zell, the Chicago real estate magnate who took over the company last

month and is now its chairman and chief executive. Mr. Zell has

repeatedly criticized the previous regime of the financially troubled

company for trying to improve the bottom line by cutting costs, and he

has said that he thinks the path to profit lies in finding new revenue,

not paring costs.

Calls to Mr. O’Shea, Mr. Hiller and a spokeswoman for Mr. Zell were not

returned. A Tribune spokesman referred inquiries to Nancy Sullivan, a

spokeswoman for The Los Angeles Times, who said, “I don’t have any

comment for you.”

Officials at The Times said Mr. Hiller had ordered a $4 million cut in

the newsroom budget. Some said he specifically sought to cut expenses

related to covering the heated presidential campaign, during a time

when such expenses usually spike. Some editors and reporters said Mr.

Hiller told them in a meeting in November that he wanted to reduce

staff somewhat by the end of this year.

The shakeup came as a surprise to newsroom employees at The Los Angeles

Times, several of whom said late last week that they had not heard

about a clash between the editor and the publisher and did not have any

indication that Mr. O’Shea’s job was threatened.

People at The Times said they did not know whether Mr. Hiller was

acting on orders from company headquarters in Chicago or on his own

initiative; Mr. Zell has said he would allow each of the Tribune

properties greater autonomy.

The Los Angeles Times had a newsroom staff of more than 1,100 people at

the start of this decade, but the number has declined to below 900,

officials say. Its weekday circulation has dropped to about 800,000,

from 1.1 million.

Tribune, whose flagship is The Chicago Tribune, bought the Times Mirror

Company in 2000, acquiring its crown jewel, The Los Angeles Times, one

of the nation’s largest newspapers and long regarded as one of the

best. The $8 billion price was widely seen as inflated, particularly

after recession struck the following year and newspaper ad revenues

began a long decline.

The relationship between the Los Angeles and Chicago offices has been

troubled for much of the time since then. Chicago has demanded cost

savings and higher profit — officials at The Times say the paper still

makes a healthy profit, despite its troubles — and the view in Los

Angeles has been that the new owners are slowly killing an asset they

neither value nor understand.

At first, Tribune brought in two highly regarded editors who were new

to the company, John S. Carroll and Dean P. Baquet, to run The Times.

But after rounds of job cuts and demands for more, Mr. Carroll quit in

2005, and Mr. Baquet rose to the top spot.

In late 2006, Mr. Johnson, the publisher, was fired along with Mr.

Baquet for refusing to carry out more cuts. Mr. Baquet then rejoined

The New York Times, which he had left in 2000 for the Los Angeles

paper, as the Washington bureau chief and an assistant managing editor.

With Mr. Baquet gone, Mr. O’Shea, the managing editor of The Chicago

Tribune, was sent to Los Angeles to run the newsroom.

Adding to the turmoil of the last few years has been the departure of

two editors of The Los Angeles Times’s editorial page, Michael Kinsley

and Andres Martinez, after short tenures.

It was not clear Sunday whether Mr. O’Shea’s successor would be chosen

from within The Times, or when his departure took place.

Tribune, one of the nation’s largest media companies, also owns

Newsday, The Baltimore Sun and other newspapers, as well as two dozen

television stations, the Chicago Cubs baseball team and other

properties.

But as newspapers endure tough times, Tribune’s papers have suffered

even more than the industry as a whole. Through the first three

quarters of last year, its profit was 53 percent below the same period

a year earlier.

Newspapers generally have been cutting their newsroom staffs in recent

years, and especially those in California, which have been hit hard by

the sharp downturn in real estate and, in turn, real estate

advertising.

AND FROM THE L.A TIMES:

The newspaper industry, like broadcast television, is being roiled by

profound changes wrought by the Internet, which competes directly and

with increasing effectiveness for the attention of consumers and the

dollars of advertisers who want to reach those consumers.

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