The deposed LAT publisher tells Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal that he knew his job was on the line as soon as he went public telling the bosses at Tribune Corp. they could not cut their way to the future. Johnson was not seen as anything but a Tribune company functionary when he began the job last year, but says that by listening to the community in Los Angeles he became "impressed with how important a paper is."
Forget that The Washington Post called him "a folk hero in media circles" for his refusal to sign off on the latest Tribune-mandated budget cuts.
"I've joked it's like being the general who's a pacifist," Johnson, 47, said Friday. "That's not really me. I'm all about being more efficient. I'll put my track record up against anyone on that one. But, hey, I believe I also know how to do it in a constructive way. So I'm a little uncomfortable [with that image], but I certainly believe the issue is an important one."
"Because it had become public, I made the call to weigh in," Johnson said. "I certainly wasn't trying to make a big public story of it. But I think it's important that publishers stand up to the job at hand.
"I'm not uncomfortable about the debate. It's an important issue and I think as a company we have to ... have a lot of open discussion about how do we get into the future and what's the best way to do it."
Despite a petition of support signed by around 400 Times staffers, Johnson knew his job was on the line.
The only question was if Tribune would boot him before or after settling on a restructuring plan for the entire company. It turned out to be before.
"I've always been pretty realistic about that in terms of this thing having become public," Johnson said. "[Tribune publishing head Scott Smith] and I agree on a lot, but there are a few things we disagreed on. At the end of the day ... you've got to end up with everybody lined up in the same direction."
Johnson also says that the prognosis is optimistic for his wife's newly diagnosed colon cancer.