Wednesday was the last day of work for many of the close to 80 newsroom staffers who are leaving the Los Angeles Times, with farewell gatherings and toasts in several departments. "Hysterical," is how veteran foreign correspondent Carol Williams described the newsroom mood when we were on KCRW's "Which Way, LA?" together Wednesday evening. Williams, who is taking the buyout, told host Warren Olney that the foreign desk where she works is being deeply hit, and that newsroom staffers have not been told what happens next and how their jobs might change. "There's a lot of panic, actually, among those who are staying," she said.
The week's farewell events included a gathering Tuesday night at the Redwood bar in downtown for departing City-County Bureau Chief Rich Connell and deputy chief William Nottingham. They are the two editors in charge of City Hall and county Hall of Administration coverage, as well as other local government news. Together with the departure today of Linda Rogers, the editor in charge of the Sacramento Bureau, and veteran government reporter Jean Merl, the ranks of those who have a clue about local and California politics takes a big hit.
Add in the departure of education editor Beth Shuster, confirmed Wednesday too, and the depth and coverage savvy among Metro desk editors (or California editors if you prefer) is diminished in a big way. This at a time when the reporter corps at the Times is getting younger and less experienced in actually reporting on government and politicians, and in need of more editor guidance not less.
The gathering Tuesday night at the Redwood was told that City Hall and county coverage will be handled temporarily by veteran newsroom staffer Larry Gordon, who himself has accepted the buyout, but isn't leaving right away. He has been most recently the staff writer covering higher education. Politics columnist Cathleen Decker tweeted a tribute to Rogers:
A T'giving eve tweet of thanks to state pol editor @LindaRogersLA , who leaves the LAT today along with many others, the guts of the place.— Cathleen Decker (@cathleendecker) November 25, 2015
Also prominent on the new list of buyout exits are arts and culture editor Kelly Scott and the books editor, Joy Press. Her note to contacts in the books world referred future editing business to the lone staff writer remaining on the books staff, Carolyn Kellogg. (David Ulin is listed as the one book critic.) I'm adding five more photojournalists to the confirmed list as well.
Bill Boyarsky, our politics columnist at LA Observed, is a former city editor of the LA Times, as well as columnist, politics writer and City-County Bureau Chief. He was a star in the paper's heyday and minces no words about today's LA Times in a piece for the Jewish Journal. His is the kind of voice that Tribune Publishing bosses and investors should be hearing about the erosion of the Los Angeles Times brand, increasingly plagued by mistakes and headlines edited to be inaccurate in an unsophisticated chase for web clicks.
From Boyarsky's column:
If you are one of the dwindling number of home delivery subscribers, the decline is evident every time you pick up your thin morning paper or look early in the morning at the front stoops of your neighbors....
A weakened website and a thin print product already are driving away customers. And it is about to get worse. If any of those leaving are replaced, it will likely be with low-paid, inexperienced reporters, editors and interns.
Joe Saltzman, a veteran USC journalism professor, explained what this means. In a Facebook post, he wrote, “What major news media companies haven’t learned is that once you empty the newsroom of experienced, talented, prize-winning reporters and editors, you lose the essence of who you are, and the young, inexperienced journalists have no one to listen to when it comes to learning how to become those departing journalists. That is the real tragedy of what is happening at the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers as well as broadcasting newsrooms around the country.”
Most importantly, perhaps, the Southland is losing a civic institution of irreplaceable value....Every part of the paper is losing, from sports to fashion, from government beats to entertainment. Experienced editors who can teach and guide youngsters are going. So are many copy editors, who have given the paper flawless professionalism and saved city desk editors like me from many mistakes.
People ask me why there are so many mistakes in the paper. It takes me a while to explain about copy desks and what they do; about the other desks and editors; their relationship to reporters.
As I tell them this long story, I invariably get mad. For what I am telling them is the story of the death of a newspaper I believed in, and the scuttling of the careers of talented journalists who made it great.
Across town, Los Angeles Magazine editor Mary Melton — herself a former LA Times writer and editor — expressed her own dismay at the LAT brain drain. There’s Way Too Much Talent Leaving the Building, her piece is headlined. Excerpt:
The Los Angeles Times has offered many buyouts over the years, but this latest round is a watershed moment in the paper’s history…[the names] left me slack-jawed—and nauseous. We’re talking about some of the paper’s heaviest artillery leaving the battlefield: at least six bureau chiefs, two assistant managing editors, and top dogs who oversee the Calendar section, Column One, and political coverage for the city and state.
I understand that a lot of them couldn’t pass up the opportunity, and that many are feeling it’s time for them to move on—clearly, it’s not the happiest place on earth, and I hope they land someplace that appreciates them more. It’s the mass exodus of institutional knowledge that scares me. Not knowledge about the Times, but about L.A., the nation, the world, their beats. You can’t write that stuff down in a book and pass it on. It takes years to learn how to tell a big story.
Mentors have been an essential part of my career, and we often refer to the work environment here at Los Angeles magazine as permanent grad school. When a young’un arrives—and don’t get me wrong, I’m all for youthful energy and new ideas—it’s us, ahem, middle and upper-middle agers who take them under our wings and try to help them fly. I’m hoping there are still plenty of editors at the Times who can do that for the invariably cheaper and not-yet-established employees who will fill these empty spots—assuming, of course, these spots are filled.
I have posted previous confirmed names such as columnist Sandy Banks and others here, features editor Alice Short and others here, London bureau chief Henry Chu and others here, and the Sports columnists here. Today I can add these below.
In all the total is approaching 80, with deals still being cut as of Wednesday for some people to go or stay. A number of staffers who have been accepted for the buyout will be staying as long as a few months, through the Oscars, and they apparently have the option of withdrawing from the buyout during that time.
On the list
Kelly Scott, Arts and Culture Editor.
A few days after I started here in May 1990, management handed out coffee mugs with “Nation’s Largest Newspaper” and “We’re No. 1“ on it...The decision to leave is right for me, but I’m glad so many people who are vital to the Times are staying, and my heart will be with them all the way.
Joy Press, Books Editor, who said she will be writing a book.
Rich Connell, City-County Bureau Chief.
Beth Shuster, education editor. She has been the guiding hand on LA Times education reportage for many years, and herself had covered education as a reporter. Said one of her reporters on Facebook:
Beth is the full package one would want in an editor: smart, experienced, ethical, incredibly hard-working, and deeply informed on the topic.
Stephanie Chavez, assistant National editor. Chavez is also a former education reporter and editor. From her Facebook post:
Today I opened Act 2 of my life. After 31 remarkable years at the Los Angeles Times, I turned in the cell phone that seemed stitched to my palm, and with a few tears in my eyes, left the newsroom. I am overcome with immense gratitude for the awesome responsibility the Times entrusted to me -- to witness, chronicle and explain the unfolding history of Los Angeles…
Connie Stewart, assistant National editor.
I plan to relax and enjoy the holidays as I haven’t been able to do since college. I’ve lost count of the number of Christmases I’ve worked...Next, I’m going to do some writing – essays, and perhaps more.
Debbie Goffa, assistant national editor.
Mary Braswell, weekend editor.
Paul Whitefield, a manager on the MultiPlatform/Copy Desk.
Brian Thevenot, deputy Business editor.
James Granelli, deputy Business editor.
Patrick McMahon, assistant Business editor.
Pat Benson, Business web editor.
Stuart Pfeifer, Business staff writer.
Larry Harnisch, copy editor.
Don Bartletti, photographer.
Gary Friedman, photographer.
Bob Chamberlin, photographer.
Lawrence Ho, photographer.
Don Kelsen, photographer.
Scott Harrison, photo specialist.
Veronika Derugin, photo specialist.
Mary MacVean, Mind and Body editor.
Patrice Roe, digital editor.
Mark Sims, senior designer.
Dan Evans, editor of Times Community News.
There are a million stories in the naked city, and I'm not going to get to all of them. It sure has been fun trying.
Today is my last column for the Los Angeles Times. That was harder to type than I thought.
I am among dozens of departing journalists. It will be a slow trickle, starting now and ending around the first of the year.
It was our choice. For some, it was a severance package. For others, the reasons were personal. For me, it was just time…
Also noted: These buyouts are occurring at all the Tribune Publishing newspapers, and at the Chicago Tribune, the Olympics reporter Phil Hersh has left. His byline appeared occasionally in the LA Times and he was a respected journalistic authority on the Olympics. From his last piece:
The lure of a generous, voluntary buyout offer means the first day of the rest of my life was Thanksgiving.
That timing is perfect, given how thankful I am for the Tribune having provided me a chance to bring athletes from dozens of countries a little closer to Chicago — and to readers kind enough to have taken the journey with me, even if they sometimes didn’t like its direction.
The end of an era for the @LATimes Sacramento bureau -- we're saying goodbye to Linda Rogers, who has guided our coverage for years— Chris Megerian (@ChrisMegerian) November 25, 2015
I am among those who will be leaving my Times family after 23 incredible years. Sad. Excited to explore new options. https://t.co/uP7FrlKAQu— Lee Romney (@leeromney) November 24, 2015
Will the last one leaving the LA Times please make the appropriate gesture towards the Windy City.— Joe Flint (@JBFlint) November 24, 2015
end of an era: internal announcement just went out that the great Walter Pincus is leaving the @washingtonpost.— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) November 25, 2015