Talking Points

LA Times purge 'capped a month of newsroom turmoil'

canters-night.jpgCanter's at night. Yes I know there is no apostrophe on the sign, but Canter's uses one. Most of the time.

A semi-regular bite at the day's news and observations. Follow LA Observed on Twitter between posts.

garcetti-kpcc-inves.jpgUpdate: KPCC will air and post an investigation on Wednesday reporting on $31.9 million in large donations to favored causes of Mayor Eric Garcetti, some by interests that "have won sizable contracts and crucial approvals from the city in recent years." KPCC was teasing the story on the air Tuesday. "Most of the donations Garcetti raised went to a charity he helped create after his election, the Mayor's Fund for Los Angeles."

1. Behind the LA Times editor massacre
in his coverage of Monday's mass firing of LA Times masthead editors, Variety's Gene Maddaus links the house cleaning to newsroom complaints lodged with corporate parent Tronc about editor-publisher Davan Maharaj and his handling of the USC medical dean investigation. Tronc investigated the complaints and took no action, but then began examining other newsroom complaints about Maharaj and his team. Morale has been so bad, Maddaus says, that there's been talk of union organizing. The final blow was Metro staff upset over a Maharaj plan to reassign the longtime Metro editor, Shelby Grad.

By last Friday, it became clear that the HR investigation posed a serious threat to the top editors. That morning, several editors wrote to Tronc CEO Justin Dearborn and chairman Michael Ferro, requesting an immediate meeting.

“We ask you to meet with us today, as a group, to discuss a Human Resources investigation that has disrupted our workplace for more than a month,” the editors wrote. “We are concerned about the repercussions for the news organization.”

On Monday, those repercussions became clear. Maharaj and [managing editor Marc] Duvoisin were out, along with investigations editor Matt Doig, and digital editor Megan Garvey. Jill Leovy, the founder of “The Homicide Report” blog and author of “Ghettoside,” was also fired. She is Duvoisin’s wife. Ana Mata, Maharaj’s administrative assistant, was also let go.

Tronc concluded there were no improprieties in the handling of the USC story, according to a published report by the Los Angeles Times. The four were not let go for cause, and Tronc referred to the personnel moves as a “restructuring.”

News industry analyst Ken Doctor followed with a deeper dive that confirms the Metro-led revolt against Maharaj, quiet overtures by the Newspaper Guild, and push back by Maharaj against pressure for more budget cuts from Tronc, which releases uglier financials every quarter.

Writes Doctor: "While there’s much to plumb in the who, what, when, and where of those firings, even this unprecedented canning is but a sideshow to the larger drama here: What is the future of the once nationally powerful Los Angeles Times?"

That answer remains very unclear, as we wait to see if the new publisher has any brilliant answers that have eluded others, and if Tronc can find a great editor willing to come to the LA Times, and indeed whether Tronc's Michael Ferro decides to sell. For now the new team will be assessing the staff of the Times, and Doctor writes: "Even those who complained about the Maharaj reign may reconsider what they wished for as that assessment moves forward."

It's been so frustrating as an Angeleno, and as a former Times editor and reporter, to watch the LAT fall farther behind even as it shifts more to digital. And to see Maharaj and his top team stay smug even as his staff lost confidence in him as an editor and he sputtered as a novice publisher. The website still isn't very good, the newsroom loses more good people each year, and the future of the Times as a business looks as shaky as it ever has.

At our Native Intelligence blog, former LAT staffer Ellen Alperstein says what she would like to see as a reader of the Times.

Finally: New LAT publisher Ross Levinsohn tweets here.

2. Canter's earns a C grade
I first saw the item buried in a Daily News list of restaurant closures for health code violations. Canter's, the iconic Fairfax district deli, was closed by health inspectors in early August due to vermin and other major violations. It reopened three days later on Aug. 10 — but with a dreaded C grade in the window. I tweeted about the news on Monday. People noticed, as they do any news about LA's delis. Lots of retweets and likes, almost as many as the shocking LA Times news, plus comments from fans of Canter's, fans of Langer's and Brent's, and others who said they would never eat at Canter's again.

From there the media noticed. LAist and Eater posted stories letting Canter's get away with saying the closure was voluntary. By late Tuesday, however, Canter's was taking responsibility. "When people ask, we are an 85-year-old restaurant and are having some growing pains as we evolve," co-owner Jacquelyn Canter told ABC7 and other media. "We messed up and the basement wasn't up to our standards and we won't let it happen again."

3. Village Voice no longer a print publication
A true media milestone in New York: The Village Voice is shutting down its print edition. The landmark former alt-weekly will continue to publish online, where its readers are. It wasn't that long ago that the Village Voice and the LA Weekly had a shared corporate ownership, if not a shared style or worldview, and they always were different-coast expressions of the same free media niche.

Current LA Weekly editor Mara Shalhoup reacted on Twitter:

4. Her two days with Jerry Lewis
amy-wallace-caric.jpgLos Angeles-based magazine writer Amy Wallace wrote one of the best personal pieces I read about Garry Shandling after he died last year: The Last Email Garry Shandling Ever Sent Me. She's back with another piece on the GQ website, this time My Two Days With Jerry Lewis, about her interview with the Hollywood legend that ran in 2011.

By any definition, it was a marathon: 11 hours over two days, with barely a break for an orange soda and a cheese steak. Jerry Lewis liked to talk—about himself, sure, but also about more general topics as they applied to him: money, lust, celebrity, vulnerability. And he'd cleared his calendar for me....

With so many decades to plumb, our conversation took on a meandering quality, veering from his appraisal of Marilyn Monroe's best quality ("She was very funny") to his vibrant imagination ("I dream in color") to his claim that no one on earth had more Al Hirschfeld caricatures of himself than he did ("Five. Martin and Lewis got two. I got three singles."). Hour after hour, we sat across from each other, his huge desk in between us, as framed photos of iconic comedians he actually knew and called friends—Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel—gazed down at us from the surrounding walls.

After the story ran, Lewis wasn't happy with one line. "Why did you call me an egomaniac?" he asked.


5. 'Total eclipse of the facts'
CNN anchor Don Lemon reacted on the air to President Donald Trump's latest speech against the media at a campaign rally in Phoenix.

6. From Channel 7 to Channel 4
Alysha-Del-Valle-grab.jpgTraffic reporter Alysha Del Valle recently vanished from ABC 7's air and website. Never fear. She has been hired by NBC 4 to do traffic on the local morning show.

"Alysha’s warm and versatile reporting style will bring top-of-the morning traffic information to Southern Californians to help start their day,” said Todd Mokhtari, vice president of news. “Her impressive career in local broadcast is another solid addition to our news team."

7. Selected tweets

More by Kevin Roderick:
'In on merit' at USC
Read the memo: LA Times hires again
Read the memo: LA Times losing big on search traffic
Google taking over LA's deadest shopping mall
Gustavo Arellano, many others join LA Times staff
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Nate 'n Al's in play, sexual abuse of swimmers, cougar kills horse
Media notes: LA Weekly massacre, more bad men, LAT editor and Trump
Pacific News Service RIP. NY Times profiles a Nazi. Good reads.
Standing up to Harvey Weinstein
Exits from the Daily News and LAT, mom dress code for Hollywood, more notes
Biggest Los Angeles brush fire was actually in 1938. And more.
Helping in Houston, new lion cubs, Garcetti's back
Garcetti has weekend date in the Hamptons