Chicago imposing deep new cuts on LA Times, report says

James Warren of reports that the first task of new Los Angeles Times publisher Timothy Ryan will be to oversee a reduction in editorial expenses by about $10 million that could amount to 80 positions. Warren cites an unnamed "executive from Tribune Publishing." I believe the most recent numbers going around peg the editorial budget at about $75 million a year with a headcount of about 500 people on the editorial staff. So this would be a significant cut in a newsroom already down way more than half from its peak more than a decade ago.

Warren is a former managing editor and Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune, as well as that paper's media columnist, so he has Tribune sources. He now covers the media for Poynter.

Warren also has some details on the buyout terms that will be offered in hopes that as many as 80 people leave without layoffs. The most anyone would get, Warren seems to say, is one year's salary. The formula would be one week for each of the employee’s first ten years of employment, then two weeks for the next ten years, and three weeks for years 20 to 30. Yes, there are still several newsroom employees approaching and over 30 years.

The Tribune Publishing source said the Los Angeles paper likely would not be alone in making reductions. Other Tribune papers are expected to face cuts, too. It was unclear how the cuts would impact other Tribune properties.

“It’s the only way Jack will make his number,” the source said, alluding to financial goals Tribune CEO Jack Griffin has struggled to attain during an industry-wide downturn….

If buyouts don’t generate the cost savings desired, the company would turn to layoffs.


Griffin recently dismissed, with board approval, Austin Beutner, a successful private equity investor and former Los Angeles deputy mayor who was the newspaper’s publisher. Internal discussion of cuts began prior to the rancorous split.

Griffin and Beutner clashed over a variety of issues, some involving core strategic notions and Griffin’s preference for marked centralization of some tasks. There were also frictions over Beutner’s preference to reinvest in a variety of editorial experiments and use potential personnel savings for those projects. There were marked stylistic and personality differences, too.

Beutner’s being replaced by Tim Ryan, a more traditional newspaper executive who initially rose through the operations side of the Chicago Tribune. More recently, Ryan has been the publisher of the Baltimore Sun, where he oversaw huge cost reductions.

Readers should expect to see some familiar names leave before the end of the year, and it's hard to see how it won't mean a further reduction in what gets covered by the Times. The editors already have to be pretty strategic about what news gets reported. Meanwhile, the news staff hasn't gotten a cost of living raise in several years, this year they are being forced to use up stored vacation time, and they are under greater pressure to re-package news for print and a variety of digital products.

Hard to know what this means for several of Beutner's initiatives, including the EmergingUS team that is attached to the opinion section, led by immigration activist and journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.

Before the Beutner firing, and the details about the extents of cuts, newly arrived managing editor for editorial strategy Mitra Kalita spoke to Nieman Reports about big digital plans for the paper. Here's her interview, published yesterday.

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