Baquet exits Times after rejecting cuts

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Weeks after its layoffs-resisting publisher was fired, the Tribune Co. has ousted Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet.

His replacement, as with the publisher, is being transferred from the Chicago Tribune. The news was delivered Tuesday to the Times staff, who have been bracing for a broad round of job cuts -- which it appears Baquet fought too aggressively.

"(Baquet) is leaving and will be replaced by Jim O'Shea, currently managing editor of the Chicago Tribune," recently installed Times publisher David Hiller said in a memo hastily distributed after Internet reports of Baquet's departure. "When I came here four weeks ago, (Baquet) and I agreed that we would work to get to know each other, for me to get to know the newspaper, and we would decide if we were on the same page in terms of the strategic and operating direction of the paper," Hiller added in the memo, which was quickly posted on the blog LAObserved.com. "After considerable discussion, we concluded that we have significant differences on future direction, and so Dean will be leaving."

Baquet said goodbye to a large group of editorial employees in the newspaper's third-floor newsroom Tuesday. His replacement is expected to start Monday.

Hiller jumped from being publisher of the Tribune to his current post after Times publisher Jeff Johnson was jettisoned just weeks after his very public rejection of parent-company orders to heavily slash staff.

The developments arise against the backdrop of a publishing industry beset by a generational shift to Internet news and information. That has undermined traditional revenue streams and unleashed a tsunami of dramatic cost-cutting at newspapers coast to coast.

In the Los Angeles media market, additional challenges include a ring of aggressive suburban dailies that have nipped at Times circulation in recent years and a drop in print advertising by the Hollywood movie studios. Those challenges have caused some to wonder whether the Times' upmarket, national-newspaper focus is prompting reader flight to more locally oriented publications and also to criticize the Times Web site efforts.

But though it will bear watching whether the Times' orientation is adjusted by the new editor and publisher, media watchers will be poised for even more immediate fallout on the question of staff size.

It appears the management shake-up has delayed any major furloughs for at least a few months. A round of pink slips had been expected later this month, but Hiller told staff that nothing will be decided on staff reductions until the new year.

"The bottom line is that your revenues are going to go down, and you don't have much choice but to reduce costs," said media analyst Dennis McAlpine of McAlpine Associates in New York. "Most of the newspaper companies have gotten interested in the Internet, but it's going a lot slower than they'd like."

Meanwhile, the Baquet bombshell left newsroomers predictably shaken.

"People aren't exactly surprised, but they're depressed nonetheless," a newsroom source said.

News of Baquet's departure -- officially dubbed a resignation -- circulated after the close of market trading Tuesday. Tribune shares closed down 62 cents, or 2%, on the day at $31.62 amid a modestly upbeat broader market.

Current payroll at the Times, one of 11 Tribune Co. newspapers, stands at about 930 people. Tribune, which also owns 26 TV stations and the Chicago Cubs baseball team, reportedly asked Johnson to reduce staff to 800.

Analysts suggest that the Times has never paid off for the Tribune as hoped when the Chicago-based media group acquired the newspaper in 2000. A recent search for buyers, prompted by pressure from institutional shareholders including former Times owners the Chandler family, reportedly turned up low-ball bids by investment banks that Tribune rejected.

Los Angeles-based investors including David Geffen also are believed to be interested in a possible purchase of the Times.

"Ultra-high net-worth businesspeople view pre-eminent big-city newspapers as trophy assets," said Todd Jadwin, senior managing director at Alexander Dunham Securities in Los Angeles.
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