Panic mode (again) at L.A. Times

This time — just weeks after the last, historically deep round of newsroom and content cutbacks at the Los Angeles Times concluded — I'm hearing there's a fair bit of anger being voiced about lack of candor and foresight by Editor Russ Stanton and Publisher Eddy Hartenstein. At meetings yesterday and today, staffers began to be told that 50-75 newsroom jobs will be cut starting now — with the implication clear to most that expensive veterans are the target. Many expect desks to be combined and the paper's respected Washington bureau to be all but dismantled by soon after the election. The explanation is less the deteriorating economy per se than Sam Zell's wobbly finances on the Tribune deal and, reportedly, the threatened loss of a key advertiser.

I'm hearing the first open speculation in the newsroom and the L.A. media community — but only that, speculation — that Stanton is on the ropes. He's a rookie editor, seems to be losing the fight for respect in the newsroom, and wasn't hired by Hartenstein. Stay tuned. There's also talk that Hartenstein is upset that his first major step since coming aboard in August — when he vowed to stop the paper's contraction — has to be throwing the Times staff right back into angst and turmoil. Remember, Hartenstein made a point of saying when he came on as a neophyte newspaper executive that he would walk if Sam Zell interfered and that he had six months of leeway. It's been less than two months, but that's the way Zell's Tribune operates.

For readers of the Times, of course, this all can only mean yet more dilution of the paper's content and stature. Several of the best journalists who are left are looking to get out if they can. Many top-notch journos remain, but all year I've been posting the exits of stars, familiar bylines and more than 200 other staffers: photographers, editors, designers, researchers. Also today, Stanton emailed the staff an email about yesterday's exit of Associate Editor Leo Wolinsky that foreshadows a reorganization of the features side of the paper:

From: Stanton, Russ
Sent: Tuesday, October 07, 2008 1:57 PM
To: zzTrbAllHandsLAT
Subject: Leo Wolinsky


For 31 years, Leo Wolinsky has served the Los Angeles Times and its readers with integrity, pride and a deep devotion to this community and to the craft of journalism. At one point or another, he has worn seemingly half the titles in the newsroom: reporter, assistant bureau chief in Sacramento, city editor, Metro editor, managing editor, executive editor, associate editor. And for the better part of a decade, Leo shaped Page One, bringing his steady news judgment and knowledge of California to bear on thousands of stories.

This spring, I asked Leo to move to the Features department to bring some much-needed stability to a crucial part of our newsroom. He accepted the assignment with his characteristic dedication, made a number of immediate improvements, and won over colleagues who were skeptical that a career hard-news guy would care about Features.

In the months since, I became convinced that the organizational structure which has prevailed in Features for several decades needed to change, so that our coverage in this multimedia world could improve and evolve. It is fair to say that Leo and I did not agree on the best way to accomplish this, leading to the difficult decision that he will be leaving The Times.

Over the years, Leo has made contributions to our readers, to this newsroom and to his colleagues that are too numerous to count. He has served ably, conscientiously and indefatigably, and for that work The Times and our readers owe Leo tremendous gratitude.

Russ Stanton
Los Angeles Times

Yesterday: Incredibly, deep new cutbacks at L.A. Times

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