Tension rises at Los Angeles Times as owner makes deep cuts

Tension rises at Los Angeles Times as owner makes deep cuts

Around twilight Thursday, Los Angeles Times journalists gathered at Flora, a rooftop bar a short walk from the newspaper’s headquarters, to congratulate their late editor, Kevin Merida.

As reporters and editors sipped cocktails under dark skies, discussion focused on why Mr. Merida, the paper’s editor for nearly three years, had suddenly decided to leave — and the deep layoffs that had taken place in emergency meetings earlier that day. The possibility was discussed. According to four attendees.

In the days that followed, internal talks between the company and the staff union have included talk of cutting about 100 jobs or about 20 percent of the newsroom, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. This has put The Times journalists at odds with their boss, biotechnology billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong. Those relations reached a crescendo on Friday when employees left the jobThe newsroom’s first union-organized work stoppage in the newspaper’s 142-year history.

Tensions escalated further on Monday, when several state congressional representatives sent a letter to Dr. Soon-Shiong raising concerns about the scope of the cuts, and staffers received a note informing them that two other senior The editor has left.

Hillary Manning, a spokeswoman for the company, did not comment on tensions in the newsroom or the scope of the proposed cuts, but said in a statement that the newspaper “appreciated the concerns expressed by elected officials regarding the anticipated layoffs.”

He said the Los Angeles Times had appealed to lawmakers to pass legislation that could help address the financial challenges facing local news publishers.

“We have made it clear to many of these MPs over the last several years that local news publishers are facing an existential crisis,” he said. “The Los Angeles Times is facing no serious financial challenges.”

Major layoffs at The Times, the West Coast’s largest news organization, would be the latest in a series of bad news for the publishing industry, which is facing sharp economic headwinds. In addition to The Times, The Washington Post and Time magazine collectively lost hundreds of millions of dollars last year, despite their newsrooms having billionaire owners and deep investments. Even cultural touchstones like Pitchfork and Sports Illustrated have not been spared, with both publications announcing significant cuts in recent weeks.

When Dr. Soon-Shiong bought The Los Angeles Times in 2018 informed of Its newsroom consisted of approximately 400 people with approximately 138,000 digital subscribers. Journalists, fed up with years of corporate infighting and cost-cutting, welcomed a wealthy owner who said he was committed to investing. Over the course of two years, approximately 150 new journalists were hired, and the newspaper reinvested in foreign news coverage and expanded its digital presence.

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

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

Before the scope of the cuts were made public, Mr. Merida announced his exit. His departure followed tensions with members of the Soon-Shiong family over editorial and business priorities, including the 2024 budget and a decision by Mr. Merida to bar staffers who had criticized Israel’s response to the October 7 attacks by Hamas. A letter was signed in protest. Conflict with Gaza.

According to three current employees, on the day of the strike, after the journalists walked off the job, they discovered that their corporate email and Slack accounts had been shut down. The people said their access was restored over the weekend.

Mr Merida’s departure leaves a void in senior management, which has widened in the past week. Two top editors have since announced their departure: Shani Hilton and Sarah Yassin, both managing editors. Both were part of a team of four editors overseeing the newspaper after Mr. Merida’s exit. first semaphore informed of On his departure.

“This is a passionate and proud newsroom, and I am confident that journalism and a deep love of the paper will ensure its future,” Ms Yassin wrote to colleagues on Monday.

Later on Monday, senior editor Julia Turner emailed the newsroom and said that she and Scott Craft, another senior editor, “are now responsible for all editorial functions.” He added that he “is advocating for editorial interests in negotiations with the company regarding the financial crisis we are facing.”

The leadership exit prompted some staffers to circulate an image that included headshots of the departing editors — including Mr. Merida, Ms. Hilton and Ms. Yassin — with those of the newspaper’s other leaders in a grid labeled “Masthead Bingo.” In.

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

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

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