Citing a sluggish California economy that has exacerbated advertising woes, the Los Angeles Times announced that it will slash an additional 250 jobs across the company before Labor Day, including 150 editorial positions — or more than 15% of the paper’s staff.
The latest retrenchment by the Times comes amid budget-slashing throughout parent Tribune Co., including newspapers in Baltimore, Chicago and Hartford, Conn., as well as such TV stations as KTLA in Los Angeles.
The Times’ new editor, Russ Stanton, broke the news to staff in a memo stating the paper would reduce the number of pages published each week by 15%. Stanton — whose predecessors Dean Baquet and James O’Shea, along with publisher Jeffrey Johnson, all left after resisting proposed staff reductions — said while the action is “difficult and painful,” it is “absolutely crucial” the paper not diminish its service to readers.
On his blog LAobserved, former Times staffer Kevin Roderick characterized the latest shrinkage as “the big downgrade of the Times ambition and staff quality” that previous editors had resisted.
The cutbacks will almost certainly require the Times — which will shrink to about 700 editorial positions, down from nearly 1,200 at the start of this decade — to make tough choices about coverage priorities. New owner Sam Zell has previously spoken about reducing staff in Washington, D.C., for example — though surrogates backpedaled somewhat afterward — and expensive foreign bureaus might also be in jeopardy should the paper pursue a more regional strategy.
Amid the layoffs, the Times will reorganize and consolidate its print and Web units into a single editorial operation. Publisher David Hiller noted in a separate memo that both the paper and website will be redesigned in the fall, stressing that Tribune was trying to be forward-thinking as opposed to presiding “over the decline of an old business model.”
Thus far, Zell’s team has possessed few answers to Tribune’s problems other than to continue slashing away at them, while seeking to maximize the value of the company’s real estate — Zell’s area of expertise before taking over — and shedding selected assets, such as Long Island’s Newsday. Tribune is also awaiting bids for its baseball team, the Chicago Cubs.
Given the company’s heavy debt load, reports have stated that Tribune could be in danger of defaulting on its debt and interest payments by the end of 2009 should the economic tailspin plaguing newspapers fail to improve. That has fueled speculation that other properties, including the Times, might eventually have to be put on the sales block as well.
The new management has been derided by journalists, meanwhile, for failing to understand their industry. Recently, Tribune chief operating officer Randy Michaels drew criticism for attempting to boil down reporters’ productivity to the number of pages they produce per year — a measure that, if taken literally, wouldn’t reflect qualitative factors.