Clouds over Baquet's L.A. Times *

The New York Times story on the LAT editor change assumes that a troubling period lies ahead—and makes it clear that departing boss John Carroll has been spilling to his friends in the industry about the Tribune Company's desires to cut in Los Angeles. Former NYT Managing Editor Eugene Roberts, who hired Carroll at the Philadelphia Inquirer, says what the Tribune Company is proposing amounts to a "national tragedy." He adds that Carroll did not want to "preside over a major diminishment or the destruction of the L.A. Times as we now know it." William Marimow, the managing editor of National Public Radio who succeeded Carroll at the Baltimore Sun, said the Tribune's budget plans "would require dismantling much of what he'd done." Carroll and Dean Baquet, his replacement as Editor, had discussed leaving together rather than impose the Tribune's cuts [which are not detailed anywhere that I know of], writes NYT reporter Katharine Q. Seelye. Baquet, she reports, began "marathon discussions" with the Tribune in late June about his future and is believed to have spoken to other papers about a job. He tells Seelye that he got some assurances before taking the top LAT post:

"Well, I am staying," Mr. Baquet said in a telephone interview. "Obviously these are going to be tough times financially for this paper, and for all papers - every paper in America will have to tighten its belt. But the fact that I agreed to become editor means we will have the resources we need to keep getting better."

Thursday's story by the L.A. Times staff media writer James Rainey confirms some of the intense behind-the-scenes wrangling that preceeded Wednesday's announcement:

Baquet's promotion to editor and executive vice president followed days of sometimes tense negotiations involving Baquet, [Publisher Jeff] Johnson and a corporate executive in Chicago. As recently as two weeks ago, Baquet threatened to leave the newspaper, according to several Times staffers who spoke to him. He told some of his top editors that a meeting with Tribune managers before the Fourth of July weekend had left him wondering whether he would have the freedom, and funds, needed to maintain the paper's worldwide news operation.

Baquet eventually got the reassurances he wanted from the Times' corporate parent, said some of his close associates.

"Have I had disagreements with Chicago and others about the paper? Sure," Baquet said in his office Wednesday. "But obviously I feel like I am in sync enough with the people who own the joint" to have accepted the editor's job.

Howard Kurtz also frames his Washington Post story on the editor change as coming amid the threat of more budget cuts. Carroll acknowledges to Kurtz that financial pressures were a factor in his decision to leave. Baquet concedes there will be more belt-tightening, but adds: "Obviously since I'm taking the job, I believe it's not going to keep us from continuing to get better." Kurtz quotes several LAT staffers and observers, including me saying that Baquet's decision to stay was popular in the newsroom. Kit Rachlis, editor of Los Angeles magazine, called Carroll's departure "a real blow" and added: "The real question is what Tribune is going to do with the Times. Are they going to impose more cuts? Are they going to bundle bureaus together, especially in Washington? Close down foreign bureaus?" American Journalism Review also talked to Roberts, Marimow and other veteran journalism figures about Carroll and Baquet.

* Also: Baquet tells Gabriel Snyder of Variety, "The publisher (Jeffrey Johnson) has made it clear that we're going to have to tighten our belts in the coming months." 8:36 a.m.


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