O'Shea: Don't rush to judgment

Times editor Jim O'Shea follows up the publisher's memo with a missive of his own, asking the newsroom to have faith and saying he understands anger over Tribune execs receiving big bonuses. He offers that "life is unfair" and adds his own prediction — based on what insight we don't know — that newspapers have a brighter future than everybody says. Left unsaid is that the only reason he has his LAT job is that the previous editor and publishers refused to enact these Tribune-ordered cuts, and he was willing.

From: OShea, James
Sent: Monday, April 23, 2007 11:09 AM
Subject: Staff Reductions
To the Staff:

I know this is not a happy day for people in the newsroom, including me.

As you all probably have heard by now, we announced today the preliminary steps for another staff reduction at the Los Angeles Times.

I did not come here to preside over a decline of this great newspaper. I consider the loss of each and every journalist or employee in this company a failure. I guarantee you I have worked extremely hard to minimize any staff reduction. I will also guarantee you that I will work just as hard in the future to avoid another day like this.

As you would do with any story, please don't rush to judgment about the proposal unveiled by David Hiller in his memo to the staff. We have issued a call for anyone who would like to explore leaving to contact his or her supervisor.

We consciously made the offer available to everyone because we wanted to be fair, not because we don't care about who stays and who leaves. We value each and every one of you. As the notice said, we will not accept every request. If your job has to be backfilled, chances are you will not qualify. In a perfect world, I would prefer that every employee stay here. Unfortunately we don't live in a perfect world.

We have to make a reduction and we are trying to do it the best way we can. If there are people who want to leave for legitimate reasons and we can help them, we will, as long it serves the overall interests of the newspaper.

There will be some position eliminations, too. We will determine how many once we know the results of the voluntary program. There is also a voluntary reduction of hours element to the program. For details, you should look at David Hiller's release or ask your supervisor.

A number of you have asked me how we could cut jobs to save millions of dollars at a time when a group of unnamed executives will reap bonuses and stock grants worth millions when the change of ownership is complete. I cannot - and will not - defend any such bonuses. Frankly, I understand why you are angry about these plans.

But this staff reduction is not because of -- or about -- bonuses. Unfortunately, the business model at newspapers across the nation remains under challenge and we are no exception.

We still make lots of money. But a negative cloud hangs over our projected future revenues. Advertisers simply doubt we can continue to attract readers as we have in the past. They are abandoning newspapers for other advertising venues, eroding our revenues and cash flow and increasing the pressure on our costs.

I personally think these doomsayers are wrong. Newspapers have a far brighter future than the doubters think. Sam Zell, who will make his first investment in the company soon, says he agrees. We are making substantial progress at The newspaper remains editorially vibrant; our stories, photos and graphics are excellent and we are dramatically increasing our ability to deliver news and information across a variety of platforms. We are moving in the right direction.

Where can anyone get a deal that matches the Los Angeles Times for only 50 cents a day? There is so much value in our newspaper that it is better than free; it is a world-class bargain. We are growing on-line readership aggressively. And just look at the parade of awarding-winning journalism being recognized by our peers, including the Pulitzer Prize for "Altered Oceans" announced in early April. This is an outstanding newspaper and outstanding staff.

We must continue to deliver exceptional editorial performance during these troubled times, and we can do that by continuing to practice quality journalism. Good, solid, relevant journalism flowing from the newsroom is more valuable than ever today, not only for us but also for the public we serve.

We are not going to overcome this challenge by bemoaning our fate or complaining about inequities. Life's not fair; we all know that. I pledge to you that I will apply this reduction in a fair manner. It will be painful, but I will do it. And then we must move on. We can't yearn for a past that's gone; we must grow. We must invest the substantial resources that remain at our disposal wisely. Currently that is our most important challenge. The newsroom is the heart and soul of a newspaper and we owe it our energy, creativity and integrity.

I did not come here to fail. I came here to make things better for the journalists and the public we serve in Southern California. Today is one of the more challenging days. But better times are ahead. I truly believe that.

Soon we will become a private company co-owned by Sam Zell and the employees. Being private has its advantages. We will no longer have to operate in the public glare of Wall Street. Most other rules and practices that apply to us as a public company won't change, though. We will face the same pressures and have the same opportunities.

Currently Mr. Zell has an agreement to invest in the company. He is scheduled to join the board sometime in the second quarter of 2007. He is someone who says he believes in the value of what we do, someone who says he sees in us a good business, someone who can peer through clouds of doubt and see a different and better future. I welcome that kind of thinking and spirit.

Meanwhile, I will be here until we convince the world of the truth: more people are reading content from the Los Angeles Times than ever before. Although our future may seem dim on days like today, we continue to have one. Don't let the doomsayers convince you otherwise. We have a future; it is out there for us to claim.


Edited post

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