'Let's not pretend this is anything but sad,' LA Times memo says

latimes-sign-sideview.jpgThis dropped in my in-box over the weekend. Kim Murphy, the assistant managing editor for foreign and national news at the Los Angeles Times, sent a memo to her staff beginning the process of rebuilding her team following the buyouts. She confirms a couple of names that were unclear, notably that Washington bureau reporting stalwart Richard Serrano has taken the buyout. "[He] for some time has been the Times' most powerful reporting weapon, and I do not say this lightly," Murphy says of Serrano. "One of the irreplaceable ones."

She details plans to move remaining editors into new positions and also discloses that the Times will be filling the bureau vacancies in Europe, Beirut and Las Vegas and possibly in other places. The blending of the Foreign and National desks is a real sign of the times. Foreign and National used to be two of the deepest and most honored of desks at the LA Times, and traditionally there was a separate Foreign Editor and National Editor who each hired and ran their staffs. Now Murphy, herself a former correspondent, wears both hats.

Also this: "It will be crippling to lose all these wonderful people. But for all those remaining, please remember that one of the reasons I stayed was because so many fine people are also remaining. Do not fear that all the talent has slipped out the door. Look around you when this is over, and you will see how much good work we have ahead of us."

From: "Murphy, Kim"
Date: November 25, 2015 at 12:56:19 PM PST
Subject: today is buyout day

Hello all,

This is the day when a number of our colleagues will be leaving us, and in the weeks ahead, more will join them out the door.

Let's not pretend that this is anything but sad. We have all shared way too many intense, insane, crazy hard times together (many of which ended up as astonishingly good journalism) to think that these departures won't make us cry. I'm tearing up already.

Let me fill you in on the names, which I'm sure you've all heard about already from each other, if not L.A. Observed:

Stephanie Chavez is already departed, preparing for a new life as a student at USC. (We had a "Wine at 5" for her last week in the office, and it was GREAT.) Attaching a photo of how we remember her, smiling through mayhem, at her desk, on her last day.

Debbie Goffa, as you all know, left much earlier to deal with a family emergency, and is also now installed at USC, as a speechwriter for the president! Way to go, Debbie.

Leaving today:

Michael Muskal, breaking newsman extraordinaire and the possessor of the greatest fount of facts, history and trivia ever known to reside in the human brain. Many of which became assets in his stories on hard deadline.

Maria LaGanga, one of the most graceful writers ever to work at the L.A. Times, who wrote some of the better stories in the country these past years on the attacks on abortion rights and the world's best On the Grounds. Maria and I go way back as reporters, and I know personally how good she is, both on the ground and behind the computer.

Tina Susman, a classic correspondent who was equally comfortable in a helicopter over Baghdad and at a soiree in Manhattan. Whatever difficult story had to be done, we always knew we could call Tina and it would be done with speed and aplomb. Then she'd come back and dash off a memorable Column One in her spare time.

John Glionna, one of the nation's great storytellers and a reporter with one of the biggest reservoirs of energy of any I have ever known. Also a damn fun guy. The West is truly going to be a lesser place without Glionna to document it. Actually, no it won't--he's already got a range of freelance gigs lined up to be doing it even more and better. Bad for us. Good for readers.

David Zucchino, one of the best war correspondents of our generation. No need to say more--everybody knows David Zucchino. I'm not even going to talk about how sick I am he's leaving.

Henry Chu, who if you're trying to figure out who's the best correspondent you could send to any given story, the answer is almost always Henry. What a writer. Remember how our Paris attacks stories looked as good as the NYT and WaPo, even though they had a dozen reporters in Europe and we had our lone guided missile? That's because it was Henry.

Carol Williams, possibly one of the most versatile foreign correspondents I have ever known. She speaks German and Russian (and a couple of other languages). On an absolute dime, she can turn out an amazingly intelligent story on the complications of Middle Eastern politics, the Greek debt crisis, Kremlin skulduggery or weapons of mass destruction. Then she can get on a plane, land somewhere and do six stories, from breaking news to Column Ones, in a week. Seriously?

Paul Richter, who probably knows more about global affairs than any reporter you'll meet, and who does a better job of explaining the intricacies of thorny diplomacy than anyone I've read. We had the best coverage of the Iran nuclear talks, IMHO, and that's because we had Richter writing it.

A few people are leaving a bit later:

On Nov. 30, we are saying goodbye to:

Connie Stewart, the absolute bulwark of the national desk. There is nobody who has absolutely held this place together as Connie has. Every day, she takes the chaos that is usually reining on the National Desk by 1 p.m. and starts getting stuff organized and moved to the copy desk by deadline. When there's big news, it's often been Connie sitting here past the midnight hour, editing your election stories, taking feeds on the Boston bombers, heck, writing blog posts herself when there was nobody else to do it. A genuine treasure.

In mid-December, we will lose:

Roger Ainsley, considered pretty much the heart and soul of the Foreign desk. For legions of correspondents present and past, he was the daily voice on the other end of the phone: reassuring and calm for those reporters in tense situations and in need of comfort, slightly irritating for those in London preparing for dinner but asked instead to write a daily. A man with an amazing ability to take the chaos of the entire world, a small repertoire of reporters, and mix the two into a smart daily budget.

Rick Serrano, who for some time has been the Times' most powerful reporting weapon, and I do not say this lightly. When the chips are down, news is flying, terrorists are at large and information is nonexistent, Serrano comes up with the goods. Consistently. Accurately. On morning web deadline or late Sunday nights. One of the irreplaceable ones.

Ashley Dunn, who is going to take over as A1 editor and part of the "top stories" team that is being created. Ash is widely recognized as one of the best editors in the building, and he will now make those considerable talents available to a wider pool of journalists in the newsroom. Bad for us, great for him. The good news is he won't be far, and his infectious good humor and unmatchable meal planning skills will still be at our disposal.

And at the end of December:

Tim Phelps. He has worn almost every hat in the DC bureau, and has been great at whatever he's done. Fantastic editor and amazingly versatile as a reporter, testimony to his long career, full of excellent stories, that spans from the Middle East to the Supreme Court. A fabulous colleague in every way.

Paul Feldman, who after years as a reporter in Metro--a great range of stories--joined the Foreign desk, from where he's been taking your features from around the world and polishing them to absolute gem quality. He's a tough editor, as all of you know, but the product is invariably worth it. Huge asset to the desk, an amazing well of experience and excellent judgment--not to mention, he knows more about music than Robert Hilburn. Did you all know his overcrowded desk is under consideration as an exhibit at the Museum of Jurassic Technology?

Let me add one name to this list, who while she's no longer officially part of the Foreign desk, in our hearts she is and always will be: Kari Howard. I haven't heard a single name on the buyout list who's been mentioned so widely throughout the newsroom as a source of particular regret. Kari was a reporter's dream editor, with a deft touch on copy and a genuine love for language--not to mention

If this list seems overly full of superlatives, it's because all of you are. You are simply the best at what you do. It will be crippling to lose all these wonderful people. But for all those remaining, please remember that one of the reasons I stayed was because so many fine people are also remaining. Do not fear that all the talent has slipped out the door. Look around you when this is over, and you will see how much good work we have ahead of us.

Let me take the opportunity to announce that Mitchell Landsberg has agreed to become deputy editor of a more unified Foreign and National desk, meaning that an editor who has been a wonderful resource to reporters in Foreign is now going to be available to you National writers, too.

Likewise, Steve Padilla, who until now was one of the most sought-after editors in National (and among reporters all around the newsroom, to tell you the truth), now is going to handle enterprise on both the National and Foreign sides. Foreign reporters, welcome to the world of getting to work with Padilla, who also is a much-lauded, traveling writing coach for all of Tribune's papers.

A bit more on the desks:

Steve Marble, one of our most experienced editors in Metro, is going to be our morning assignment editor in National, for now.

Efrain Hernandez, whom you all well know as a superb line editor and a steady hand in closing our print report, becomes morning assignment editor in Foreign. Roger's shoes are some big ones to fill, but I am confident that Efrain is going to do an excellent job anchoring our daily report and launching creative daily enterprise on the web.

We are going to have a single editor handle the nightside in Foreign and National. We are going to borrow someone for now, but soon will be hiring a permanent replacement.

The weekend desk during December will be handled by Paul Feldman, who will also continue to handle enterprise on Thursdays and Fridays. We are hiring a replacement for when Paul leaves us at the end of the year.

We also expect to bring in one other editor with strong expertise in guiding National enterprise.

We have some very good candidates already for some of these positions, and I would welcome suggestions of any others who would be of the caliber we expect at the LA Times.

On the reporting side, we will be posting the following positions:

Europe correspondent
Beirut correspondent
Las Vegas correspondent
national race and justice reporter

I am looking at a good possible candidate in Seattle. I also am trying to get authority to hire an LA-based national news writer and also a global news writer. Stay tuned on that.

So...enough housekeeping. Today is another milestone in the long, tumultuous evolution of these things we know and adore called newspapers. We are not dead yet. We'll move on--after taking this day to wish all the very best to our departing colleagues as they with trepidation prepare for their exciting "next chapters."

A huge virtual hug to all.

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