Patterico's Pontifications

9/16/2006

L.A. Times Editor Baquet in Standoff with Tribune Over Staffing Levels

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 11:21 am



There’s a standoff between L.A. Times editor Dean Baquet and his bosses at the Tribune Company over staffing levels at the paper.

Tribune has been suffering due to losses in advertising rates, and the company’s stock is down.

On Thursday, a Times story revealed that Baquet has a disagreement with Tribune about staffing levels. (H/t L.A. Observed.) The story reported that local L.A. leaders, including former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, had written the Tribune a letter objecting to staffing reductions. The story added:

Tribune Publishing President Smith heard similar objections to proposed cutbacks when he visited Los Angeles late last month. Times executives failed to present him with a plan for trimming their budget, which had been requested.

In a meeting in the paper’s second-floor executive suite, Baquet made his opposition to further cuts clear and said there was no need for further discussion.

Baquet seemed to soften that stance in an interview with a Times reporter, but confirmed that he had a difference of opinion with management about how deep the cuts should be. His publisher agreed.

“I am not averse to making cuts,” Baquet said in an interview Wednesday. “But you can go too far, and I don’t plan to do that. I just have a difference of opinion with the owners of Tribune about what the size of the staff should be. To make substantial reductions would significantly damage the quality of the paper.”

Times Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson said he agreed with his editor that “newspapers can’t cut their way into the future. We have to carefully balance economic realities with serving our readers.”

Yesterday, the New York Times was describing this all as a “showdown”:

The editor of The Los Angeles Times appears to be in a showdown with the paper’s owner, the Tribune Company, over job cuts in the newsroom.

In a highly unusual move, Dean P. Baquet, who was named editor last year, was quoted yesterday in his own newspaper as saying he was defying the paper’s corporate parent in Chicago and would not make the cuts it requested.

(H/t again to L.A. Observed.)

One wonders what has happened over the past couple of weeks that caused Baquet to take this private battle to the pages of his newspaper.

Reaction is mixed. Tom Blumer thinks that Baquet should resign if he can’t follow Tribune’s directives. But the American Journalism Review calls Baquet’s position a “brave and inspiring stance.” (H/t, once again, to L.A. Observed.)

Clearly, the newsroom agrees with the latter view. The New York Times story says:

Several staff members said the stance that Mr. Baquet was taking now, with support from Mr. Johnson, had given the newsroom a morale boost.

“Johnson comes out from Chicago and goes native,” said Steve Lopez, a columnist for the paper. “He’s had a stiff drink of the Dean Baquet Kool-Aid and he’s on the team.”

He said many in the newsroom thought Tribune would be reluctant to fire the editor and the publisher because doing so could bring further embarrassment and spell chaos for the already troubled company.

But not everyone is so sure:

“Tribune isn’t shy or sentimental,” said Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. “My guess is that they don’t want to be backed into a corner.”

This is worth keeping an eye on. As is usually the case with stories about The Times, this story has been covered best at L.A. Observed, which tipped me to most of the above links. Make sure to check in at L.A. Observed in coming days to see what happens.

12 Responses to “L.A. Times Editor Baquet in Standoff with Tribune Over Staffing Levels”

  1. As I said at my post, these people think they are a public utility and not a newspaper that has to stay in business.

    Part of staying in business is fact-based, non-opinionated reporting, something Patterico has chronicled in gory detail for at least the past 3-1/2 years. They haven’t changed, and if they continue not to give readers what they have a reasonable right to expect, they’ll continue to see 5% shrinkages in their subscriber base every 6 months.

    When you lose readers, you lose subscription revenue and you lose advertisers and advertising revenues. At that point, since LAT management clearly refuses to do anything to make its product palatable, they either have to volunteer to lose money or cut expenses to bring things back in line.

    Since someone else owns them, IT’S NOT THEIR DECISION to volunteer to lose money as Baquet and Johnson clearly seem to feel (budgets? we don’t need any stinkin’s budgets!).

    They’re also not in charge. The Trib is, not anyone in LA, including Warren Christopher (!) and other “LA leaders” who think of the Times as some kind of venerable institution that can’t be allowed to adjust to the real world it created for itself.

    I don’t see how the Trib has any choice but to throw their butts out on the street. If others walk with them, I would suggest that it might be a good thing.

    Tom Blumer (ac1462)

  2. I meant to say that the LAT has FAILED at fact-based, non-opinionated reporting, which is sort of obvious.

    Tom Blumer (ac1462)

  3. Our esteemed host told us several months ago that he had cancelled his subscription to the Los Angeles Times, yet he is able to quote them and cite them frequently.

    I don’t know how our host does this, but I know that I am able to quote and cite The Philadelphia Inquirer quite easily, because virtually everything that is in the dead trees edition is available on-line — and available for free! I frequently pick up a print copy on my way to work in the morning (assuming that the papers are delivered to the Turkey Hill where I make my morning stop before I get there), and it is useful in the sense that I can more easily spot the things that interest me, but were I to be just a bit more diligent, I wouldn’t need it at all.

    The Times has the problem that is facing all of the newspapers: as internet use increases, the need for their newspapers decreases. Until they find a way to make money by the internet, they are heading down the path to extinction.

    Dana (1d5902)

  4. Sure would love to own shares in a business where employees ignore orders.

    MSM deathwatch continues.

    BlacquesJacquesShellacques (83acf5)

  5. It kind of reminds me of the time (about 15 yrs. ago?) when Newsday had to shut down their NYC edition. They were bleeding money on it and decided to concentrate on their home base, Long Island. Well, all the uppity news staff in Manhattan went into a Palestinian street dance protesting the decision. They honestly thought that the company should continue to publish the deficit edition “for the good of the city.” They are nothing but a bunch of socialist-dunces who have no idea about how to run a business.

    Same with Baquet, apparently. As an earlier poster pointed out….it’s the product that’s causing the readership loss, not the budget.

    Bill Schumm (33ab73)

  6. Tom Blumer, great insight into the economic realities facing the Times and the reluctance of Dean Baquet to accept his responsibility in making the paper economically viable.

    It is therefore no surprise that the Times’ editorial page is always oblivious on economic issues.

    When a Marxist blowhard (Michael Hiltzik)who hates business is (well, WAS) writing a business column, it pretty much signals the attitude toward making money by the folks at Spring Street.

    Desert Rat (d8da01)

  7. #3 Dana, you have to explain why the times is losing readers faster than most other newspapers. The last survey showed a 5.4% loss for the Times from Oct. 1, 2005 to March 31, 2006.

    Only 2 papers in this top-20 list did worse. Five had gains:
    HERE

    It’s more than the Internet, my friend. Thinking otherwise is copping out.

    Tom Blumer (ac1462)

  8. #6, Desert Rat, I wasn’t close enough to the Hiltzig thing to know he wrote on business. Yikes.

    Tom Blumer (ac1462)

  9. Problem:

    massive increase in DNA samples has overwhelmed the crime lab

    Solution:

    Outsource to China.

    TakeFive (6f402d)

  10. I remain amazed at the number of people who read _USA Today_.

    Any speculation on why the Chronicle’s circulation is down a staggering 15%?

    It’s not like the other bay area papers are significantly better.

    aphrael (3bacf3)

  11. #10, the Chron claims that they planned that this would happen because they got rid of a lot of freebies and/or discounts. I don’t know what to make of the claim. The report that comes out on about Nov. 10 should tell the tale, because they should stabilize if what they say is correct.

    Tom Blumer (ac1462)

  12. SMELL A TIME SMELL A TIMES SMELL A TIMES SQUAWK SQUAWK

    krazy kagu (557722)


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