Tribune answers L.A. critics

On the eve of a crucial board meeting, Tribune Company chairman Dennis J. FitzSimons sent a contentious four-page reply to Los Angeles civic leaders who had said publicly the company should consider selling the L.A. Times rather than let quality erode further. FitzSimons ' letter said there would be no sale — "the Times is, and under Tribune ownership will continue to be, a truly great newspaper" — and noted that the paper has won numerous Pulitzers during the Tribune's ownership and spends almost twice as much (as a share of revenue) on editorial than the Otis Chandler regime did. To rebut the idea that local ownership would be better, he played the Staples Center card — noting that it was under Times Mirror that the Times was embarrassed by a profit sharing deal with the new arena. Today's story in the Times by media reporter James Rainey points out, however, that the editor in charge during the Pulitzer-winning reign quit last year in frustration over Tribune budget cutting.

The showdown could intensify a board meeting Thursday, when Tribune directors may decide the fate of the company's 11 newspapers and 26 television stations amid pressure from its largest and most disgruntled shareholder to break up the company.

"The board meeting is to talk about the strategic positioning of the company," with a particular focus on demands made by the California-based Chandler family, which sold The Times and other assets to Tribune in 2000, said one person who works closely with Tribune directors. The board members "will also certainly be asking management to explain what is happening at the Los Angeles Times."

Last week, the publisher and the editor of The Times, Tribune's biggest single operation, went public with their refusal to make additional staff cuts requested by their Chicago bosses.

The defiant stand by Times Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson and Editor Dean Baquet marked a turning point in Tribune's rocky six-year ownership of the paper galvanizing many reporters and editors, who saw it as a stand for quality journalism, and raising the hackles of business managers inside and outside Tribune, who debated whether the duo could survive at the paper.

Two unidentified newspaper industry figures say in the LAT story that Johnson and Baquet's Times careers are clearly on the line, with one predicting they will be fired: "How long can you have your biggest subsidiary in a sort of open rebellion?"

Letter text
Reuters story
Which Way, L.A.?: Warren Olney asked ex-LAT editor John Carroll the what-if question — what if there were no L.A. Times? Here's the audio and Mayrav Saar's take.

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