LAT

Ex-Times editor explains why he had to leave

Joel Sappell had been at the L.A. Times for 26 years, most recently as an investigative projects editor. He never considered any previous buyout, thinking of the LAT as his dream job. He writes for American Journal Review that Sam Zell had a lot to do with his getting out.

I'd come to believe that the Los Angeles Times, while still stacked with talent, is in decline, and that it's time to go.

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We had such high hopes in Los Angeles for the billionaire from Chicago. When Sam Zell took over last year and said it was time to stop cutting, we wanted to believe....

Although a gifted real estate man, he'd underestimated the severity of the newspaper crisis and ordered reductions.

He also quickly began to reveal himself as thin-skinned and crass, upbraiding Tribune journalists who challenged his vision. In a meeting with staffers in Florida, he punctuated his response to a female photographer's question about the public service nature of journalism with a self-satisfied "fuck you." When word of the incident spread through our newsroom, jaws dropped and hearts sank.

Then came Zell's visit to Washington, where he gruffly informed reporters and editors that their operation was bloated, a drain on the company. Almost instantaneously, e-mails began flying into the home office with a blow-by-blow of Zell's performance, correctly described in the blog L.A. Observed (laobserved.com) as a "psychic bloodbath."

Zell has insisted that his over-the-top words are meant to shake years of complacency from the organization. Maybe so, but I'd heard enough. Soon, I was sitting in my first buyout briefing in a room crowded with big names and many who'd worked behind the scenes with little public notice or acclaim.

I had a sick feeling. Leaving was almost inconceivable. I wasn't Linda Greenhouse. I had no safety net. At 55, could I find a new job? How would I support my family? What about medical benefits and college for the kids? Most important, would I ever be as happy again in my work?

Ultimately, Sappell writes, he wanted to work someplace he could be proud of again.


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