Here are the some of the best observations and news culled from the next-day coverage about the ouster of Dean Baquet as editor of the L.A. Times. Managing editors Doug Frantz and Leo Wolinsky say they are staying. John Carroll, the former LAT editor, sounded his most downbeat ever about Tribune, telling the New York Observer, "I think the chances of the paper succeeding under Tribune are zero." In the same piece, Michael Kinsley says, "It could be very exciting if David Geffen buys [the Times] and makes Arianna Huffington the editor." Former LAT book editor Steve Wasserman calls the Baquet firing "panic at the top" and "a triumph without victory."
Wall Street Journal (subscribers only):
According to a person familiar with the situation, Mr. Hiller told Mr. Baquet last week that between 50 and 75 jobs would have to be eliminated from the newsroom. Mr. Baquet balked. The next day, Mr. Hiller and Mr. Baquet agreed to part ways.
In an interview, Mr. Hiller said that while he discussed staffing levels with Mr. Baquet he had no "specific number in mind," and that the differences were much deeper. "Its about the direction and the pace of change that we need in the newspaper and in our Web site in order to be successful in these so rapidly changing times. Part of that, but only part of that, relates to the economics of the business and staffing levels...."
After the news of his impending departure broke yesterday, Mr. Baquet was contacted by two newspapers about jobs, according to a person who spoke with him.
Colleagues of Mr. Baquet said the firing had less to do with a dispute over job cuts than his vocal resistance to them, made plain in a speech last month in New Orleans, in which he encouraged editors at other newspapers to “push back” against owners who wanted to cut newsroom staffs. In fact, when Mr. Hiller addressed the newsroom yesterday, he said he expected no job cuts, at least for the rest of the year, and he told editors it was still possible that any further cuts could be reached through attrition, according to people at the paper.
Mr. Hiller said in an interview later that public debate was not a “fatal problem.” But he added of Mr. Baquet’s speech in New Orleans: “I did not think it was helpful to Dean and me in working through things. My issue was what it said about whether we saw eye to eye on how we lead this great newspaper forward.”
Of future job cuts, he said he did not know what next year would bring, and he did not have a specific staffing level in mind, but that “over time” he expected that the staff would be reduced. In the last five years, the newsroom’s size has fallen to 940 from about 1,200.
“People are crushed,” said Alice Short, a deputy metropolitan editor. “People really believed in Dean and that as long as he was in that front office, we were going to be O.K.”
Vernon Loeb, an investigations editor, said the employees were stricken. “It was like a parent had just died,” he said. “We’ve kidded ourselves into thinking that Dean is such an artful dodger, he could play this string out forever.”
Steve Wasserman, at Truthdig.com:
What is plain is that Tribune Co.’s toppling of the Johnson-Baquet regime reveals panic at the top. For the truth is that the men at Tribune believe they are presiding over a dinosaur institution. It may loom large for the moment—indeed, the paper’s reported 20 percent profit margin on a billion-dollar-plus revenue last year would, one might think, appease all but the greediest of Wall Street zealots—but the belief deepens that newspapering as we have known it is being rendered extinct by technology and a younger generation that is beguiled by devices that can electronically transmit content. Moreover, advertisers too are steadily migrating away from print.
No one knows what to do. Tribune, having bought the former Times Mirror Co. from the wily Chandlers for nearly $8 billion in March 2000, is desperate to recoup its investment. Whatever Tribune’s public rhetoric, it is clear that the company is privately beginning to give in to despair. Slash and burn is the order of the day. Firing Johnson and booting Baquet will solve nothing and bring only temporary satisfaction. The effect on the men and women left standing in the newsroom can only be chilling. The message is clear: Speaking out will be punished. Temerity will not be tolerated. One prediction is safe to make: Tribune’s actions represent a triumph without victory.
After the jump: More insights and reaction from various points in the mediasphere.
New York Observer, in a piece given a little Robert Towne-esque twist in the headline: "It’s Chi-town, Dean."
Dean Baquet’s insurgency at the Los Angeles Times lasted less than eight weeks...
The evening that news of Mr. Baquet’s departure broke, managing editor Douglas Frantz sent out an e-mail to the staff with the subject line “I’m staying.”
“I took the managing editor’s job partly out of loyalty to [Mr. Baquet],” Mr. Frantz wrote, “but over the last year, my loyalty expanded to encompass all of you and the jobs that you do for this newspaper. So while I’m angry and heartbroken, I’m not quitting. And I’m asking all of you not to quit, not literally or figuratively.”
Managing editor Leo Wolinsky, another purported member of the suicide pact, seconded Mr. Frantz’s announcement. “This is not the first trauma to hit the newsroom,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Baquet had been negotiating with Tribune Co. executives since Johnson's departure, and the two sides could not agree on the number of required newsroom staff cuts. Baquet had planned to announce he was leaving Thursday, but the news leaked out yesterday.
Former Times city editor Bill Boyarsky, during Channel 13's election coverage last night:
"I think it's very bad for the paper...Inevitably what's going to happen is that the Tribune Company will disappear."
Bob Kholos, former press secretary to Mayor Tom Bradley, now blogging from Bel-Air:
OK, I've had it. I've been reading the LA Times since 1955, and while I have a problem with a columnist at that paper, I certainly think that bringing in a new publisher (from Harvard--weren't McNamara, Bush and Kerry from Harvard?) and now O'Shea from Chicago is an LA version of tipping over Mrs. O'Leary's cow. The long time beat reporters at the Times can not be improved upon--trust me on this one. I spent over 20 years as a political press secretary, from LA to SF to DC, and never have I worked with a better crew than those professionals at the Los Angeles Times. Sometimes, I get frustrated when the front page looks like it has been edited by Michael Moore, but other than that, the paper does an outstanding job. The other travesty is letting Managing Editor [sic] Dean Baquet go on election day. That is like dumping the top aide to the Pope on Christmas.
Photo: Anne Cusack/LAT