At James O'Shea's going away party today in the Chicago Tribune newsroom, his ovation came with a gag gift of a plastic shield and body armor — a comment by his friends that he will need protection when he gets here to become editor of the L.A. Times. There's something to it. O'Shea lands in the middle of a raging culture war between Los Angeles and Chicago for the soul of the paper. Chicago has toppled the regime by kicking out editor Dean Baquet and publisher Jeffrey Johnson, but Tribune's new governor-general, David Hiller, and Col. O'Shea are viewed by many in the newsroom as occupiers. Yesterday, before Hiller stood on a desk here to dryly confirm the coup before angry and teary-eyed reporters and editors, he heard a voice on the speaker phone from Washington quip that bureau staffers had (figuratively) just hung Tribune CEO Dennis Fitzsimons in effigy. Hiller did not look amused. While he addressed the gathering, at least one staffer in L.A. symbolically turned his back. A Times security officer stood nearby, the first time that anyone could remember a publisher being escorted into the third floor newsroom. Baquet clapped courteously after Hiller spoke, but not many others did.
O'Shea will arrive with solid old-school credentials, which should help him win some converts, but his appointment is also a slap to the face of Times partisans. Instead of a nationally respected editor (Baquet) who was a contender to run the New York Times, or a Pulitzer-winning machine (ex-editor John Carroll), they get a guy who didn't even rise to #1 at the Chicago Tribune. (He was managing editor, the #2 job.) That insult is accompanied by the knowledge that Chicago has flagship envy — the Tribune was the company's biggest and best newspaper until the Times came along, and old habits die hard both places. Chicago has been wanting its language and customs to be adopted in Los Angeles, but it hasn't happened.
Today's news that Eli Broad and Ron Burkle made a bid to buy the Tribune gives some at the Times hope that power will shift back to Los Angeles someday. So too does the knowledge that the last two Tribune generals sent to L.A. to convert the savages (ex-publishers Johnson and John Puerner) went native and sent word back to Chicago to get smart and see the light. They were purged. Hiller is different, a combat-tested trial lawyer rather than a newspaper guy, and will be harder to turn. Stay tuned for future dispatches from the war front.
Also: Baquet and a tight group of editors knew last week that he was on the way out, so it's a small victory of sorts that the news didn't leak until yesterday.
Q&A with me and Newsweek correspondent Andrew Murr (Newsweek)
Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski's memo about O'Shea (Romenesko)
Trib is bad for L.A. Times (Chi-Town Daily News)
Tribune plot thickens (LA Biz Observed)
Baquet at the New York Times (Seth Mnookin)
Nation's editors outraged, sad (Editor & Publisher)
O'Shea vs Baquet in Tribune's words (Romenesko letters)