×

Turmoil at L.A. Times Has Newsroom In a Tailspin

For a newspaper that has weathered years of turmoil, the Los Angeles Times is once again in the throes of a crisis.

Still reeling from the shock of publisher and CEO Ross Levinshohn being put on unpaid leave last week for past sexual harassment settlements and inappropriate behavior, the paper’s newsroom was jolted again Wednesday when business editor Kimi Yoshino was suddenly suspended and escorted out of the building with no explanation to staffers.

That same day, the paper’s editor-in-chief Lewis D’Vorkin was the subject of a 5,000 word takedown by the Columbia Journalism Review. According to more than a dozen staffers, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, the newsroom has lost confidence in D’Vorkin. That is raising questions of just how effective he can be in leading the news gathering operations of the largest newspaper on the west coast.

Since Yoshino’s suspension on Wednesday, anxiety and paranoia have enveloped a newsroom that just a week ago overwhelmingly voted to form a union.

Staffers fear that the disciplinary action taken against Yoshino is the result of an aggressive probe by D’Vorkin to learn who leaked audio recordings from two newsroom meetings that the editor held shortly after his arrival last fall. In the second meeting, D’Vorkin admonished the staff, calling the leaks “unethical” and saying whoever provided the recording to outside news organizations is “morally bankrupt.”

Times insiders believe the company is actively investigating the leaks by combing through phone records, work email accounts and company-provided phones. Some employees have resorted to communicating about the state of affairs through encrypted platforms like Signal and are they are also careful to avoid criticism of D’Vorkin on internal messaging channels like Slack.

Staffers have described a witch hunt atmosphere at the paper, driven by an editor who has been characterized as condescending and aloof. That perception was further reinforced by the CJR expose, which delved into D’Vorkin’s work history, with a headline that read: “L.A. Journalism’s ‘Prince of Darkness.’” What emerged was an unflattering portrait of a journalist who often alienates people who work for him. The piece also noted that D’Vorkin quickly cycles through jobs, including positions at the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes.

The L.A. Times did not respond to requests for interviews with D’Vorkin and Michael Ferro, the non-executive chairman of Times’ parent company Tronc.

Writers and editors at the L.A. Times are battling a distracting, multi-front upheaval while running a 24/7 news-gathering operation. While Times journalists are awaiting the outcome of an external legal investigation of Levinsohn, they are also being stonewalled about what drove Yoshino’s abrupt suspension.

“It’s no minor miracle that they put out a paper every day,” said USC journalism professor Gabriel Kahn, a former L.A. bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal.

Yoshino was meeting with the paper’s entertainment business team when D’Vorkin interrupted and led the editor away. That left business editors in the dark as their Slack messages to Yoshino regarding planning decisions for the next day’s business section went unanswered.

She left so abruptly that when a business editor managed to reach her, she asked that someone enter her office to log her out of her laptop, which she was not able to retrieve.

Business editors later met with D’Vorkin to ask for an explanation about the suspension of Yoshino, a 17-year vet of the paper and well-regarded editor who has overseen a department that had received general excellence awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in 2015 and 2016. D’Vorkin reiterated to the business editors that he could not comment on why Yoshino was suspended and declined to answer questions about her return.

On Thursday, the business desk staff circulated a letter on Twitter addressed to D’Vorkin, in support of Yoshino. “She is an exceptional manager and editor, and has demonstrated the highest levels of professionalism, integrity and ethics,” the letter read.

Also roiling the newsroom is a plan unveiled by Tronc leadership at an investors conference last week that suggested an unpaid contributor model will soon be implemented at the L.A. Times. It is similar to a strategy D’Vorkin deployed at Forbes, where he was chief product officer. Many believe that undermined the reputation of Forbes, renowned for its financial news coverage.

In a letter to Tronc’s board of directors, members of the Los Angeles Times Guild organizing committee warned that the strategy “would cheapen our journalism, damage our brand, betray our readers and ultimately shortchange our shareholders.”

USC’s Kahn agrees.

“This is not any way to change the revenue picture around,” he suggested. “The plan… is a rehash of what Forbes did at a moment when people are going in the opposite direction.”

The lack of communication over the direction of the company has frustrated Times staffers, who say even masthead editors have been left out of discussions around the contributor model that many fear is coming. Adding to their anxiety is the fact that some staffers have learned of the hiring of assistant managing editors who have not been announced to the newsroom, raising concerns that Tronc is hiring non-union staffers.

Staffers warned that the hiring of contractors or work performed by freelancers to carry out newsroom duties could lead to the filing of a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board.

Jim Newton, a former Los Angeles Times journalist who held a number of senior positions at the paper, including editor of the editorial pages, said the tumult at the paper will most likely hurt the Times readership.

“The clear loser in all of this are people who care about the city of Los Angeles,” said Newton, who is now a lecturer at UCLA and founding editor of Blueprint magazine, which focuses on policy issues affecting California and Los Angeles.

“The rank and file of the paper continues to bat way above their weight,” Newton said. “What gives the Los Angeles Times value to Los Angeles and beyond is the quality of its news reporting. To the extent that the newsroom can make that clear and fight for quality journalism, it’s fighting for the best interest of the Times and Tronc.”

More Biz

  • Lenny Bruce (1925-1966) social critic and

    Paul Krassner Recalls Lenny Bruce, Cavalier Magazine 50 Years Later

    Men’s magazine Cavalier was launched by Fawcett Publications in 1952 (motto: “For the American Male”). It was published the year before Playboy, to which it has often been compared. Imagine that this was a bastion of cutting-edge comic literature. Back in the day, Cavalier tried to be seen as slightly hipper, more youthful and considered [...]

  • LiveXLive Names AOL and MTV Vet

    LiveXLive Names AOL and MTV Vet Dermot McCormack President

    Live entertainment digital media company LiveXLive Media today announced that AOL and MTV veteran Dermot McCormack has been named president of the company. According to the announcement, McCormack will lead the business and creative operations of LiveXLive, effective immediately. McCormack previously served as AOL’s Global President of Video and Studios, where he oversaw the video [...]

  • R Kelly Sexual Assult Accusations Mugshot

    R. Kelly Ordered Held Without Bail

    R. Kelly has been ordered held without bond at a hearing Tuesday in federal court in Chicago, according to the Chicago Sun Times. The singer entered a not-guilty plea. The hearing, which follows the singer being hit Friday with a total of 18 counts of serious sexual misconduct and other charges in Chicago and New York, [...]

  • Woodstock co-producer and co-founder, Michael Lang,

    Woodstock 50 Organizers Are Optimistic but Vague Before Town Meeting

    Woodstock organizers Michael Lang and Richard Peck were optimistic but vague when speaking with reporters at a hastily announced open house for the festival held in Vernon, New York on Monday night. The town’s Vernon Downs is the most recent proposed site for the trouble festival, which has been dogged by financial and organizational problems [...]

  • What Is Equity, Roc Nation’s Indie

    What Is Equity, Roc Nation’s Indie Distribution Company?

    When news broke earlier this year that Jaz-O, Jay-Z’s longtime friend-turned-foe-turned-friend-again from Marcy Projects, had signed with Roc Nation, most reports glossed over exactly which company the rapper had signed with. His deal, for his Kingz Kounty Media Group, is actually with Equity Distribution, the independent distribution arm of the Roc Nation family of companies, [...]

  • Andhadhun

    Booming Digital Lifts Eros Indian Film Distribution Giant

    Eros International, India’s largest and most controversial film distributor, says that its digital revenues now outstrip conventional theatrical and syndication revenues. Its Eros Now streaming platform claims 18.8 million paying subscribers. The New York-listed company reported annual results that were distorted by multiple adjustments to presentation. Reported revenues in the year to end of March [...]

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    StubHub Refunds $500,000 to Customers Shut Out by New York Blackout

    Saturday’s blackout in New York had an outsized effect on the city’s nightlife, with Madison Square Garden and the entire Broadway district seeing multiple shows cancelled due to the the power outage. As a result, StubHub has refunded more than $500,000 worth of tickets for cancelled events. According to a statement from the company, the StubHub [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content