Award-winning Los Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy was fired on Monday along with four of the paper's top editors, and the reason seems to be that Leovy is married to one of the axed editors.
Leovy is the author of the bestselling book on South Los Angeles, "Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America,” and first made a big splash at the Times as the writer of the online Homcide Report blog, which under her watch endeavored to post a news item about every single murder in Los Angeles for more than a year. Her firing is disclosed without explanation in the night update of the earlier Times story announcing the firing of editor-publisher Davan Maharaj, managing editor Marc Duvoisin, deputy managing editor Megan Garvey and investigations editor Matt Doig.
Leovy is married to Duvoisin. She has been listed most recently as a cybersecurity reporter in the Business section.
Also out is Ana Mata, the administrative assistant to Davan Maharaj, according to the updated Times story on itself. Another managing editor, Lawrence Ingrassia, posted over the weekend his intention to retire from the Times and his name has curiously not been mentioned in any of the paper's coverage today.
The changes were announced by parent company Tronc along with the naming of a new publisher, online media veteran Ross Levinsohn, and a new editor, the former Chicago Sun-Times publisher and editor Jim Kirk. CNN's Brian Stelter reports that Maharaj got the word at a Monday breakfast meeting with Tronc chief executive Justin Dearborn.
The updated LAT story goes into more detail than the afternoon version and for the first time links the moves to criticism of Maharaj and his senior editors over the handling of the recent, well-received investigative series about USC's former medical school dean and his friendships with drug addicts and prostitutes.
Reporters who worked on the project approached senior corporate management to express concern about how Maharaj and Duvoisin handled the story. The reporters said they feared a possible conflict of interest with USC, which hosts the newspaper’s annual Festival of Books. Tronc then began reviewing the matter.
Maharaj and Duvoisin defended the editing of the story to colleagues, noting that sensitive and complicated articles typically take months to report, edit and legally review. And they pointed out that after the story was published, the paper continued to run developments on the front page.
The full findings of the review were not disclosed. But the company concluded there was no conflict of interest, Cindy Ballard, Tronc’s head of human resources, told top editors Monday.
The company did determine that the dual publisher and editor role — which was part of a sweeping, companywide reorganization in 2016 — was problematic in a market the size of Los Angeles. The publisher traditionally serves as head of business operations, overseeing revenue generation; whereas the editor is responsible for the newsroom, newsgathering and the editorial direction of the publication. Traditionally, those roles are kept separate to avoid conflicts of interest.
Levinsohn, the new publisher, had been consulting for Tronc for the past year, and the Times story says that when it became clear that company executives wanted to make big changes at the Times, he put his own name forward.
“This is an amazing opportunity,” Levinsohn told the Times in an interview. “The L.A. Times is a bastion of great journalism. My aspiration is to draw upon the incredible amount of work that has been done here and broaden it.”
News industry analyst Ken Doctor says the LA Times firings, along with a purge of other top Tronc executives, amount to a reset by the troubled media company.
Coming off poor second-quarter financials - down 8.6% in overall revenue and 15% in advertising - Tronc managed to turn in numbers that compared unfavorably even with some of its ever-struggling peers. Its digital revenue results hurt the most for a company renamed last spring on a promised digital transformation: "Total revenues for troncX [the company's digital division] for the second quarter of 2017 were $58.2 million, down 5% from prior-year quarter. Advertising revenues for troncX declined by 9%." The one encouraging ray: digital-only subscriptions increased nicely, as Tronc's game of catch-up showed it most results there.
The poor performance even forced Dearborn to acknowledge that the company was still playing catch-up. With these moves, then, the company aims to do two things: 1) jumpstart the lagging digital business; 2) further streamline management and cut costs.
One big question ahead for Tronc: How much will it emphasize the L.A. Times in its new strategy? The Times' newsroom still ranks as the fourth largest in the country. More important to Tronc's success is the Times' place in the company. The Times generates both about half the company's digital traffic and, together with the San Diego Union-Tribune (now its more tightly integrated sister newspaper) about half Tronc's revenues.