After the Tribune Co. asked the bankruptcy judge Wednesday to OK $42.5 million in incentive bonuses for 640 managers, L.A. Times Beirut correspondent Borzou Daragahi tweeted that the money "could be used 2 hire 640 journos." The perception of many in the newsroom is that even mild dissent such as that can lead to a spot on the layoff list in today's Tribune/LAT, but Daragahi is beyond all that. He's jumping Sept. 3 to a new gig at the Financial Times. From his recent "Hi everyone" note to the newsroom:
After six extraordinary years, I am leaving the Los Angeles Times. I will begin a new job as a Cairo-based correspondent for the Financial Times.
I want to give my heartfelt thanks to all those who’ve been so consistently supportive and friendly over the years. But more than anything, I want to emphasize how proud I am to have been associated with this paper, to have had my name attached to stories that have appeared in its pages and on its website. I would be so honored if you continued to consider me part of the community of editors, copy editors, writers, photographers, columnists, bloggers, producers, dedicated readers and others who make up the Los Angeles Times family.
So no "goodbyes," please, just consider me a lifelong friend of the paper. And keep in touch.
Daragahi, the paper's former Baghdad bureau chief, has been a three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist for Middle East coverage. His personal reflections on leaving Baghdad in 2007 were especially memorable, as was his 2009 reporting from Tehran on the YouTube street killing of Neda Agha-Soltan.
Daragahi might be the LAT's marquee (now ex-) foreign correspondent these days, but the bigger brand name with readers has to be Tom Petruno, the markets columnist. He's been a major draw for the Times' Business section since arriving in 1990 from USA Today. Petruno signed up for the voluntary newsroom buyouts/retirements coming to a head this week, but confirmed Wednesday that he has agreed to stay on at management's request until the end of November. "The LAT has been wonderful to me," he wrote in reply to my email. "I just decided it was time to see what else I might want to do."
Grahame L. Jones, who invented the soccer beat at the L.A. Times, is also taking his leave this week. No public word yet on how the paper will cover futbol, which has been getting squeezed in the competition for space in Sports.
This trio's departures follow the high-profile exits this summer of op-ed columnist Tim Rutten, basketball writer Mark Heisler, science and medicine writer Tom Maugh, environment reporter Margot Roosevelt, Travel editor Jane Engle, Washington bureau stalwart Richard Cooper and others. Meanwhile, Times people are buzzing about a recent editors meeting at which the top editor, Russ Stanton, is reported to have complained openly about loyalty and apparently became quite animated about getting rid of people he doesn't like and the print paper's eclipse in his eye by the web. Anxiety about layoffs is said to be palpable again, with at least one high-profile veteran put on unofficial notice by editors that a change in status could be looming.
On the subject: Talk is heating up about the non-profit L.A. news venture that former Times Mirror executive Tom Unterman is hoping to launch if funding comes through, with help from former #2 editor Leo Wolinsky and other ex-LAT staffers, and possibly with the involvement of the New York Times and other partners. The NYT has start-up reporting partners in Chicago (run by ex-LAT editor Jim O'Shea) and San Francisco (run by ex-LAT technology editor Jonathan Weber) and would really like to link up with a newsroom here. A radio or TV station, perhaps? Stay tuned.