September 15, 2006

LA Times Editor’s and Publisher’s Defiance Are Firing Offenses

Filed under: Business Moves,MSM Biz/Other Bias — Tom @ 6:26 pm

If it’s not, the people who run The Tribune Company have lost control of it, and THEY need to go.

Dean P. Baquet and Jeffrey M. Johnson have drawn the line in the sand, and have clearly been in open defiance for several months:

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.

The paper’s publisher, Jeffrey M. Johnson, said he agreed with Mr. Baquet. “Newspapers can’t cut their way into the future,” he told the paper.

The number of jobs at stake is unclear but the paper, the fourth largest in the country, has eliminated more than 200 positions over the last five years from an editorial staff that now numbers about 940.

“I am not averse to making cuts.” Mr. Baquet told the paper. “But you can go too far, and I don’t plan to do that.”

The paper reported that Scott C. Smith, president of the Tribune Publishing division, had asked the paper’s executives to come up with a plan for trimming their budgets, but when Mr. Smith visited Los Angeles late last month, they had produced no such plan.

By producing no plan when asked, Baquet gives lie to the “not averse to making cuts” statement. He had his chance to come up with something, and didn’t.

He should have resigned by now if he really thought the company was going too far, as should have Mr. Johnson. But they are acting as if their newspaper is some kind of indispensable public utility. The public, which is abandoning them by cancelling subscriptions at a net rate of 5% or more every six months, clearly doesn’t agree.

If Tribune Company Publishing Division President Scott C. Smith backs down, he should kiss HIS job good-bye.

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10 Comments

  1. I’m glad you posted this, Tom. I had exactly the same reaction when I saw the story. And this quote: “…many in the newsroom thought Tribune would be reluctant to fire the editor and publisher because doing so could bring further embarrassment and spell chaos for the already troubled company,” is utter nonsense. If they DON’T fire these guys, then THAT’S a sign of chaos. Firing the both of them is the only sensible course of action open to the Trib.

    Comment by Jeff — September 15, 2006 @ 10:14 pm

  2. #1, thanks. Chaos is a good term if these two crybabies have their way.

    Comment by TBlumer — September 15, 2006 @ 11:33 pm

  3. Yes, of course, how DARE those minions defy the home office and ultimately, the fine minds of Wall Street! Why not just cut the LA Times newsroom staff to 20 and just compose it entirely of wire copy? The profit margin would be astronomical. The actual profit would be about twenty cents, but still…

    The point all you Geniuses of Finance refuse to see is that publishing is not, never was and never will be an exact science, but let me try and explain it to you; There are two products here: One is the newspaper, which is the consumer product. The second is the reader, which is the business product. We produce the newspaper to sell to the reader, who is then sold to the advertiser. Get it?

    If you downgrade the consumer product too much (a trend which has been happening for the past thirty years thanks to so many media companies going public and so many of you savants trying to wring every last penny you can from these enterprises rather than seeing the longterm picture) you also downgrade the business product – the reader. This means, not only do you lose numbers of readers, you also lose the readers who are the most educated and discerning, the ones who are usually the more affluent, and thus, the most desirable to advertisers.

    So you do get to the point of diminishing returns in your frenzy to apply manufacturing business principles to publishing and other media.

    But hey, what would I know? I’m just a newsperson.

    Comment by mcquaidla — September 20, 2006 @ 1:00 pm

  4. #3, The LAT has consciously decided NOT to abandon its demonstrably proven bias, to the point where the consumer product is ALREADY degraded. THAT is why the subscriber decline is so steep. Certainly advertisers are noticing.

    LAT could probably stem the tide of subscription cancellations in 6 months if it went “fair and balanced,” but it appears congenitally unable, and definitely unwilling, to do that.

    Cuts remain the only choice.

    And it’s not like there aren’t places to cut. Joel Stein, who became infamous for his “I don’t support the military” column, admitted to Hewitt that he makes north of 70-80 grand a year for one or two columns a week. Excuse me? I could do that job (better) in two evenings. Maybe 30 years ago that was a reasonable workload, given that the tools were typewriters and research difficult. Today? Give, me, a, break.

    I’ve never seen an industry whose rank and file seems so ideologically dedicated to its own suicide. The car business is the closest analogy, but that’s all about maximiizing short-term gains for current members at the expense of their employers’ long-term health, and isn’t ideologically driven, per se.

    Comment by TBlumer — September 20, 2006 @ 1:14 pm

  5. Give me an example of this “demonstrably proven bias,” wouldja? I mean, I hear this stuff all the time – demonstrate it, already.

    I will give you this, however, if Joel Stein is making what you say he is, he is grossly overpaid for what he turns in. It doesn’t matter what his opinions are but none of them are that interesting, or researched.

    Hell, I’d take that gig over, split the workload and the dough with you. Maybe we could get them to shitcan Jonah Goldberg’s Amateur Hour while we’re at it and double our money. Shouldn’t he be shipping out for Iraq about now?

    Closing with your beatdown of the rank and file is predictable and tired. You guys need to stop fetishizing management, dude. The rank and file in Detroit didn’t make the decision to ignore what everyone knew would be an inevitable gas crunch. The rank and file didn’t make the decision to ignore safety innovations while foreign manus were innovating. The rank and file hasn’t resisted a coherent national health plan while ever other nation which competes with us has had one for decades. Same with the papers, my man. Much of the root of the LA Times issue lies with the recent descendants of the founding family, who, predictably have no interest in running a newspaper empire, and no interest in the responsibilities and hard work that accompany it. There is still something to be said for an enterprise that is stable and rewards owners and investors with a dependable, if unexciting, return over time. This society needs to wake up from its Sweepstakes Mentality, and Wall Street is no exception. Oh, and you know the LA Times is not a union shop, right?

    Comment by mcquaidla — September 20, 2006 @ 5:00 pm

  6. Examples of LAT Bias — You have no idea what is about to hit you. I happen to have dozens, if not hundreds, over the past three years, at my fingertips:

    Patterico — 2005
    http://patterico.com/2005/12/31/4057/pattericos-los-angeles-dog-trainer-year-in-review-2005/

    Patterico — 2004 part 1
    http://www.patterico.com/2004/12/30/pattericos-ilos-angeles-dog-traineri-year-in-review-2004-part-one-the-2004-presidential-election

    Patterico — 2004 part 2
    http://patterico.com/2004/12/31/2518/pattericos-ilos-angeles-dog-traineri-year-in-review-2004-part-two/

    Patterico — 2003
    http://patterico.com/archives/001747.php
    Have fun. Do not even think about coming back and try to claim LAT is not systematically biased unless you can refute at least 90% of what Patterico has documented. Better yet, save yourself time and wave the white flag, because you will not be able to.

    BTW, you did not see me say that the problems in Detroit are all UAW. Management failed to see the long-term effects of what they were agreeing to, and also failed to keep the products sharp. But, as the steel unions did before them, the UAW (and management) did not foresee a time when companies would need fewer workers to produce the same output, thanks to productivity, and that the current workforce and business environment would not allow for eternal support of gold-plated benefits negotiated in the fat years. At some point, I would say the mid-late 1980s, the union and management started to realize what they were doing to each other, but they kept doing it anyway. Heck in 1998 or 1999 the big strike-potential issue at Ford was job security. Whatever illusory security was gained does not mean too much if the company is going out of business.

    Comment by TBlumer — September 20, 2006 @ 5:30 pm

  7. Some day, when I’ve got lots of time, I’ll lay many refutations on ya. But let’s do just one…(knuckles cracking) Patterico lays into the Times for its “hostility” toward the recall and toward Arnold, as well as the reporting of Arnold’s case of the grabbies around chicks. Well, let’s start here: Gray Davis was a lousy, lousy Governor. I loathed him. Unfortunately, “lousy” is not sufficient reason to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to re-do an election. The guy did nothing illegal. And don’t forget, that whole recall drive was started and funded by Republican Darrell Issa, who was laboring under the delusion that he would be the Republican candidate for Gov. hardy har har, the Republican powers made fast work of that chump, didn’t they? So, we had an unecessary recall, and Arnold got elected. Sorry, but I wasn’t happy either, I’ve always felt that if you want to switch careers, you start somewhere near at least the middle and learn as you go. Your god, Reagan did that, didn’t he? He only bid for Governor after learning a bit about local politics. Perhaps if Arnold had put his gargantuan ego aside long enough to do a little stint on the L.A. City Council or run for State Assembly, he wouldn’t have wasted still more taxpayer money on that stupid referendum last year because he would have known better. Your boy Patterico’s objection to the Times’ coverage of Arnold is that they didn’t give him a big, fat, wet kiss from the minute he threw his wet cigar in the ring. Tough!

    Oh, and btw? Patterico’s complaint about the hatchet job on Arnold? The Governator IS a Gropinator, and I know that because I’m friends with one of the women he used to bug. This woman is cute enough, but she’s no great beauty and she’s also a prim and proper dresser – especially in an office environment (she worked for one of the studios) where all of this grabbing and inappropriate commentary took place. It’s the truth, and lord knows, we have certainly had to hear ad nauseam about Billy’s blowjob, why not hear about Arnold’s? That’s a bed your side made. Lie down and enjoy.

    Patterico’s whine about the Times’ Iraq coverage was snicker-inducing. I mean, look, if you and your pal want to keep drinking the Administration Kool Ade, that’s fine. But don’t ask the Times to stop reporting on all the poison in your glass in hopes that you might stop gulping long enough to get to a Poison Control Center.

    Any newspaper worth its salt takes on the group in power; right now, you rightwingers rule the roost, so you’re going to be ones to take the hits for the most part. What’s your beef? There’s no reason to beat on the Left, we don’t matter at present. Hopefully, after we surprise you and your friends at your summer dacha and make short work of you, we will be the Resident Punching Bags.

    As far as cars go? I remember more than once watching Detroit mgmt. wrest some big concession from the UAW only to congratulate themselves the very next day by awarding themselves a pay raise – not very good form, in fact, highly offensive – the kind of thing that makes me want to look around for my Louisville Slugger, in fact.

    And could we please stop the whining about all the gold-plated benefits awarded to the Unions? You all like to make out like pensions and healthcare are some kind of gift or special, nifty thing. They’re not; they’re forms of compensation. Pensions are simply a form of delayed compensation, something management is very familiar with these days, given the kind of pensions bestowed on people like Ken Welch (google for details) Sorry, but no one’s buying that fiction that exploding compensation at the top has nothing to do with whithering compensation in the middle and the bottom.

    I don’t know your position on exec compensation specifically, but until corporate America is willing to deal with that, don’t expect the puny segment of American labor which is fortunate enough to have access to collective bargaining to pay much attention to your calls for cutbacks. For some reason, they just aren’t interested in starving any more than your friends in the plutocracy are.

    Comment by mcquaidla — September 21, 2006 @ 2:46 am

  8. #7, *someday* to get the 90% refutation threshold will be a cold day in hell. And please direct your objections to Patterico — but do NOT bother him until you hit that 90% threshold, OK? If you read the comments to the original posts, he has slapped down just about any objection you could come up anyway.

    You know as well as I do that the groping story was all about the timing. The story was ready weeks ahead of the election but LAT saved it for pre-election weekend. Fortunately, people saw through it, and there were thousands angry enough to cancel their subs. Arnold has not been a great governor, but he has been acceptable, esp when you look at the tax-spend alternatives. Grey Davis covered up a multibillion-dollar hole in the Cali budget. But since when is breaking the law the only justifiable reason to fire anyone, even a politician? A lot of us in the Buckeye State wish Ohio had a recall provision.

    If the best you can against Patterico is a general complaint about Iraq War coverage, please. Stop, wasting, our, time.

    As to LAT, you can speak truth to power and be fair and balanced. LAT does not even try.

    The story of Detroit is one where everybody thought the punch bowl would be refilled forever. There is plenty of blame to spread around, and management goes in for about half of it, but to pretend it is all management and that the UAW has not been just as short-sighted is sheer fantasy. It took until about 1980 and the Ford-Chrysler crisis before they decided to stop defending members who were stealing tools, etc. (I know that for a fact). They never have done anything about the chronic absenteeism that probably costs the companies as much as the wage and benefits differential v. Toyota and Honda.

    Comment by TBlumer — September 21, 2006 @ 10:21 am

  9. Your argument about “timing” is, at least, one worthy of discussion and there are two reasonable ways to go with it: you could say they should have run the Arnold story when they had it finished, or you could say they should wait until people were close to making a decision on the guy. The biggest issue to me is, was the story accurate? And it was. I mean, I”m outraged that tne NY Times held the NSA wiretap story til after the elections. That kind of info is relevant to the voting process and I think Americans have a right to know what each candidate is doing and thinking as completely as possible before pulling the switch. Bad call for the Times. Did that decision bother you as much? Or are you going to tell me the Times is guilty of treason, instead?

    Uh, and dude? Davis was awful. Arnold is actually marginally better, but only marginally and get off the Arnold’s-just-so-darn-thrifty kick because he’s taken out some very big loans on my behalf since he’s been governor, he wasted millions on that dumb referendum and gazillions more were wasted on that dumb recall in the first place, but I guess that’s okay as long as it’s not social spending right?

    Look, you can’t honestly think I’m going to defend a Union leadership that defends unprofessional behavior from its members any more than I’m going to defend stupid behavior and bad decisions by mgmnt. But employee theft isn’t a job for mgmnt or the shop steward, it’s a job for law enforcement, no? By the same token, chronic absenteeism is fairly easy to discern and is cause for dismissal or disability, no? But this has nothing to do with pensions and health insurance. And again, less than 19 percent of the American workforce is Union – how can these vile unions have so much power with so few people?

    With guys like Patterico, I usually have to copy their copy and then insert my comments point by point, it takes a lot of time and energy. Maybe later.

    Comment by mcquaidla — September 21, 2006 @ 7:40 pm

  10. Working backwards —
    - You are welcome to waste time I suppose, but refuting Patterico is a futile exercise
    - The absentee problem was and is a union problem because the union still goes to bat bigtime for people who take (this is an actual term down here) hillbilly holidays. You can’t fire a person on the spot, as a boss can elsewhere. They’ve also negotiated lax attendance rules (yes, management foolishly agreed to them 30-40 years ago and the game-players know them inside-out. Employee theft is not a law-enforcement problem; it’s a firing offense. Companies rarely prosecute it because of the time and cost involved.
    - I think the recall money had to be a pittance in the grand scheme of things. Cali social spending is out of control, and Arnold has done little to curtail it except bring a bit of prosperity to a state that was fall apart. Its rate of people on welfare is twice the rest of the country, and it’s not immigrants or illegals, because TX, AZ, and FL have rates that are in line.
    - As to NYT holding the so-called wiretap story, I’ve got a news flash — If they ran that before the 2004 election, Bush would have won in a landslide, because the minute Kerry or the Dems raised the issue, they look like they’re not interested in national security (which they’re not anyway–it just becomes more obvious). Remember that the Times had also been embarrassed by Rathergate and the bogus munitions story. They were in no position to put another load of rubbish out there — negative reaction to the media would also have worked in Bush’s favor. They decided to wait until Bush was weaker to commit their sedition.
    - The Arnold thing was an example of people at the Times living in a time warp thinking they could change the election with their powerful reporting, when years before that they’d given up any right to be seen as a fair observer of Cali politics. They had spent the entire spring almost laughing at the possibility of the recall.

    Comment by TBlumer — September 21, 2006 @ 11:57 pm

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