Major Editorial Shake-up at ‘L.A. Times’

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By: Joe Strupp

The Los Angeles Times editorial pages are seeing major shake-ups, both in staff and content approach. These changes will include more involvement by readers and other non-staffers, as well as a slightly smaller editorial board.

The new approach was explained in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, which announced the changes through an editor’s note from Editorial Page Editor Andres Martinez. From now on, the paper will allow editorial writers to pen signed pieces (once a year) that go against the paper’s editorial position. In his note, Martinez cited writer Judy Dugan’s “strong rebuttal to our editorial endorsing the Republican Senate leadership’s efforts to kill the filibuster” as an example.

The paper also plans, beginning this week, online “wikitorials,” which allow readers to participate in online discussions with the paper, and even “re-write Los Angeles Times editorials,” Martinez wrote. The approach is based on “Wikipedia,” an online encyclopedia edited by Web participants.

“It may be a complete mess, but it’s going to be interesting to try,” Editorial and Opinion Page Editor Michael Kinsley told The New York Times for an article on Monday. “Wikitorials may be one of those things that within six months will be standard. It’s the ultimate in reader participation.”

Another new feature, “Thinking Out Loud,” is described as “an experiment in making up our minds in public,” according to Martinez. He writes that the feature, which will initially tackle immigration and traffic, will allow readers and Times writers to debate topical issues on the paper’s Web site and in all areas of its editorial pages. “We don’t have a solution, and there may not be a good one,” he explained in the paper. “But that is no excuse for failing to come up with the best one. We hope this process will help us do it.”

Kinsley, the former Harpers and Slate editor, started the changes by transferring four of his eleven writers, dismissing one, and outsourcing some editorials to freelancers, The New York Times reported Monday.

Among those forced to transfer were editorial writer Alex Raksin, who, with colleague Bob Sipchen, won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 2002 for a series about mentally ill homeless people, the Times reported. Raksin moved to the newspaper’s Science section.

Martinez planned to hire new editorial writers by the end of the summer, noting that the editorial board by then should have 13 members, down from 15.

But while the changes are sparking talk in the newsroom, the way the shake-up was revealed is causing almost as much gossip, the New York Times reports. Apparently many of the paper’s staffers found out about the overhaul after Kinsley accidentally left a Power Point document detailing his approach on a photocopy machine last month. He had intended to share his ideas at a company management retreat.

“We had a series of Power Point slides Michael was going to share at a retreat and some people stumbled across those and inferred that we were going to blow up the editorial board,” Martinez told the New York Times. “Michael does like to ask questions, such as, ‘In today’s world, what is the continuing relevance of a newspaper editorial board.”

Kinsley could not be reached for comment Monday morning.

Other changes Martinez revealed on Sunday include; a modest cosmetic redesign, occasional critiques of other newspapers’ editorials, and continued themed editorial pages with two or three editorials on the same subject.

Kinsley planned to hire three researchers to work on the editorial Web site, the New York Times reports. He also has plans for a three-month visiting fellow to join the paper and write editorials, and the paper is considering outside “adjuncts” to write editorials, in addition to the paper’s staff.

The Power Point disclosure sparked dissent by several editorial writers, according to The New York Times, which reported the writers confronted Kinsley, who later met with them and Editor John Carroll.

When asked if he planned to get rid of the editorial board, Kinsley told the Times. “No, but who knows? My intention was to push the envelope with those proposals. There were several and they were contradictory. But I’m not tearing my hair out over this.”

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