L.A. Times Insider Unloads on Tronc Mess: It's Like "Being on the Inside of a Pinball Machine"

LA Times Building and Lewis D'Vorkin - Inset - Getty - H 2018
Rob Kim (D'Vorkin), David McNew (Building), both Getty Images

The Los Angeles Times newsroom has weathered cuts, management clashes and — according to CNN, which has reported on the turbulent times — descriptions of being a "hot mess." One of the paper's star columnists, Robin Abcarian, described it "more like being on the inside of a pinball machine" while accepting an award from the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The event — the 42nd annual Distinguished Journalists Awards — took place downtown on March 1 at Omni Los Angeles Hotel, where The Hollywood Reporter's Kim Masters also received an award.

"As you know, this has been a crazy, weird, bizarre, intense, depressing and joyful time at everyone’s favorite local newspaper," said Abcarian of the Times, which was sold to billionaire doctor Patrick Soon-Shiong by Tronc last month at a time when Times publisher Ross Levinsohn faced allegations of sexual misconduct. He has since exited the newspaper. "To say that we have been on a roller-coaster ride for the past few years is a shameful understatement."

Abcarian also referenced the Tronc times. "Our corporate overlords at Tronc were on the verge of laying off about a quarter of our staff, when Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong swooped in to buy the Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune. We are grateful to him, and we are cautiously optimistic about our future," she continued. "All of us hope he will be able to reverse the death-by-a-thousand-cuts Tronc strategy that has taken us from a robust newsroom of 1,200 to somewhere around 400."

She then focused on stories that have turned the tables on the newsroom during a speech that received multiple rounds of applause from the room filled with editors and journalists. Abcarian was one of six honorees to take the stage during SPJ's honors. Other awards went to Masters, KPCC's Sharon McNary, ABC7's Miriam Hernandez, Voice of OC's Norberto Santana Jr., and California Aware's Kelly Aviles.

"Our last editor began his tenure by threatening legal action against us after someone in the newsroom released a recording of his first newsroom meeting to a media reporter at The New York Times. Imagine an editor threatening to prosecute his own staff for disseminating information about a newsworthy event. And our recent, short-lived publisher actually called the head of NPR to threaten legal action if it broadcast a story about his previous sexual harassment settlements. People like this do not belong at newspapers," she said, referencing ousted editor Lewis D'Vorkin and Levinsohn. "You know, many years ago, a wise person once said that only two things keep Los Angeles connected: the freeways and the Los Angeles Times. I can imagine a world without freeways. But I cannot imagine a world without my beloved Los Angeles Times."

A version of this story first appeared in the March 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.