Mood ‘Grim’ in ‘L.A. Times’ Newsroom After Johnson Firing

By: Joe Strupp

Los Angeles Times newsrooms staffers, including many who had signed a petition just weeks ago supporting Publisher Jeff Johnson and Editor Dean Baquet’s stand against more budget cuts, greeted today’s announcement of Johnson’s firing with sadness and concern.

Although some were waiting to see what incoming publisher David Hiller of the Chicago Tribune would do, most took Johnson’s forced resignation so shortly after his public stand as a sign that owner Tribune Co. would likely make the cuts that have been in the pipeline.

“The mood is pretty grim, as far as I can see,” said Bill Nottingham, a city and county bureau editor. “None of us know all of the back-and-forth between Jeff and Chicago. If he was removed for taking a stand, that does not bode well for our paper or our industry.”

Henry Weinstein, a 28-year Times reporter, agreed. “Obviously we are very distressed that our publisher has been forced to resign, we think that is a regrettable decision,” he said. “There is nobody here who is happy about this.”

Robert Salladay, who works out of the paper’s Sacramento bureau, said the firing was a clear move by Tribune to flex its muscles. “Most people today see this as a very significant shot across the bow from Tribune Co.,” he said. “It is never good when there is instability at the top. People are hoping this doesn’t lead to 120 people being laid off. I think the quality of the paper would suffer.”

William Rempel, who has spent more than 30 years at the Times, said “resentment runs deep and wide.” He added that the move has increased anger against Tribune Co.: “There is no one in the building who has any confidence in Tribune management to do what is right for our newspaper or for journalism. It is punishment for Jeff for speaking truth to management and doing it publicly.”

Weinstein and other were partially relieved with word that Baquet would stay on, at least for now. “That is good news,” he said. “The big issue is, what are the conditions? Hopefully they did not present him with any intolerable list of cuts that have to be made.”

Several employees also said they would give Hiller a chance, noting he does bring at least some record of positive oversight with him. “There was a [negative] characterization of Jeff Johnson when he came here, and he turned out to be an ally of Dean’s,” said Frank Clifford, a longtime editor. “Until we know whether or not [Hiller] brought some management edict with him, we have to wait and see.”

Rempel also gave Hiller the benefit of the doubt, saying he “at least has a reputation as someone who is smart and reasonable and has an interest in journalism.”

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