Montorio departs features post

The masthead shuffle under newly appointed Los Angeles Times editor Russ Stanton has begun, with the first major personnel move directly impacting the paper’s Hollywood coverage.

John Montorio — the newspaper’s senior presence in charge of cultural reporting, including oversight of the Calendar section as managing editor, features — told staffers in an email on Monday that he will ankle the paper at the end of this month.

His exit comes as no surprise to insiders; it was widely known that he had butted heads in the past with Stanton, who was appointed to his new post just last week (Daily Variety, Feb. 15).

Montorio, who joined the paper in 2001 after a 15-year run at the New York Times, oversaw all of the L.A. Times feature sections, including its Sunday, daily and weekend Calendar; Book Review; Sunday magazine; the Home, Food and Health sections; and last year’s launch of the fashion and lifestyle-centric Image section. As features boss, Montorio also spearheaded the Times’ coverage of showbiz trends and personalities in its main news section as well as the addition of the Envelope, a section devoted to showbiz awards.

Montorio didn’t put much of a spin on the reason for his departure.

“Russ has decided to take the features department in a different direction, with a new leader, and I will officially leave the Times at the end of this month,” Montorio wrote in his note to staffers.

He praised the work that Times staffers have done during his tenure to make the paper’s coverage of entertainment, lifestyle and cultural issues “worthy of a great newspaper and its readers.”

Montorio was brought to the Times when Dean Baquet, another New York Times alum, was managing editor, but the paper has undergone considerable turmoil since then. Editor John Carroll left, followed in short order by his replacement, Baquet, and Tribune transplant Jim O’Shea, all in the last three years.

Although Stanton praised the Image section as an example of the kind of ad-friendly but journalistically sound endeavor the paper needed to pursue to offset declining revenues, Montorio’s standoffish leadership was viewed by many inside the Times as being responsible for poor morale among the features department. An internal survey of employee satisfaction found especially low scores among those in sections that reported to Montorio, who was known to deal with staff primarily through email.

The memo made no mention of a replacement.

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