LAT

LA Times gets a top editor with nothing but questions


New LA Times editor-in-chief Lewis D'Vorkin in 2013.


The Los Angeles Times newsroom learned Monday its new leader will be Lewis D'Vorkin, recently the chief product officer at Forbes Media, where his reputation seems to be mostly about increasing pageviews, bringing in mass numbers of outside contributors including marketers, and raising the influence of advertisers. If journalists and LA Times subscribers were expecting a news-committed innovator for the digital and Trump eras along the lines of Martin Baron at the Washington Post or Dean Baquet at the New York Times, D'Vorkin doesn't seem like that editor. Nothing in the flackage from LAT publisher Ross Levinsohn talks about past journalistic accomplishments, courageous investigative reporting or news goals for the Times.

Is he the kind of pioneering newspaper editor who might somehow have the answer for the challenges in Los Angeles of 2017? No idea. But there doesn't seem to be any reason to think so, except that the people who have their money invested in Tronc succeeding seem to think so. Who knows? D'Vorkin was page one editor at the Wall Street Journal almost two decades ago and was a lower-level editor at the New York Times before that, but since about 2000 he has been traveling through various digital posts for Yahoo, AOL and others. He created and sold to Forbes the site True/Slant, which arranged with freelance writers to create original content then paid them based on page counts and ad revenue. D'Vorkin has never run a newspaper or newsroom the size and complexity of the LA Times. There's also no indication in his resume of any knowledge of Los Angeles. He is 65 years old, so older than Baron or Baquet and all recent top editors of the LAT at the time they were appointed.

“I have been training 40 years for this job,” D’Vorkin said Monday in a phone interview with a Times reporter. He succeeds Davan Maharaj, who was fired in August along with other top editors at the paper, one reporter married to an editor and an administrative assistant. There is currently an interim editor, Jim Kirk, who was sent out from Chicago after the August firings.


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My weekly LA Observed segment on KCRW Monday afternoon gave a quick take on D'Vorkin's appointment. For the newsroom at the Times, which just last week unveiled the first serious union organizing effort in the paper's modern history, it's a new editor coming in from the outside with no real knowledge of anyone in the room, or of the city or of covering news in 2017, and no commitment to current leadership. He's also got a track record of favoring cheap outside writers over experienced staffers. So yeah, there's some trepidation.

For readers, if he can fix the crappy website experience without adding unnecessary video impediments and click obstacles he'll win some fans. That is, if he shows a real commitment to local news, which can be expensive to ferret out.

From a mostly laudatory 2013 story in the Guardian:

Over the past three years he has pioneered and refined a controversial system in which contributors get paid according to traffic and, in what may seem like heresy, advertisers pay to write editorial.


Such is its success at transforming Forbes magazine and its website, forbes.com, that DVorkin is now paraded around the conference circuit in America as a kind of digital guru, having seen digital revenues shoot up 20% in the past year and traffic double in two-and-a-half years to just under 25m uniques a month.

It all started in 2010 when Forbes threw its website open to bloggers, academics and experts from all sorts of areas relating to investing and entrepreneurship. In total DVorkin now has 1,000 contributors – he hates the word "bloggers" – alongside a core staff team of 100, of whom about 50 are reporters.

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It's every advertiser's dream to be seamlessly integrated with journalism but that is anathema to reporters, particularly those who write critical articles about big businesses.

"We are not of the view that it is advertorial, it is authentic story-telling," DVorkin insists. "Today's audience wants to get information – expert insight from wherever it comes. That could come from a journalist, an audience member or a marketer," he says. "It's an equal playing field."

That's not necessarily the plan for the Los Angeles Times. But Tronc watcher Ken Doctor calls D'Vorkin an out of the box hire whose Nov. 1 arrival will reset the strategy for the LA Times and Tronc itself once again.

While D'Vorkin has a long national resume -- including editor stints at the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, the New York Times and AOL -- the Times' role will be his first leading a regional newspaper. He takes on a roiled newsroom, now numbering 400 after serial cuts over a number of years, and one with a set of morale issues. In fact, just last week, the NewsGuild announced it had enough newsroom signatures to call for a unionization vote.


The big early question: How will D'Vorkin approach the long-time existential question of the Times -- should it be a paper with national focus and ambition or one that should be profoundly regional in the digital age?

Doctor asked Levinsohn about the future direction of the Times under D'Vorkin.

"We're a hometown paper. Our core business is serving the communities of L.A.," Levinsohn told me Monday morning. "We'll keep our eye on covering this city. This place touches a lot of places around the world in its diversity. Food, fashion, fitness, for instance. And entertainment, of course. We should take advantage of that, of course."


Of D'Vorkin, he says, "He has one foot in the deep rich history of journalism, and one in digital transformation. He pushed the envelope early on."

How much of Forbes' strategies will be applied at the Times?

"We won't do clickbait," says Levinsohn. Instead, he describes a strong emphasis on verticals, first and foremost of them entertainment, and then on those other topical areas with which Los Angeles plays a larger-than-local-role. Expect D'Vorkin to employ his digital smarts mostly in those areas.

I'd also wonder what D'Vorkin's commitments will be to expensive investigative reporting and un-sexy topics like county government and school board meetings that bring in no advertising money or viral clicks but are a reason for readers to rely on the Times website. And his ethics for handling the sticky and perennial pressures from major advertisers for special consideration in news stories and protection from newsroom investigations. He's the editor, not the publisher. Does he have the backbone, the smarts and the commitment to readers to completely insulate his reporters and his news report, digital and print, from demands by advertisers, business partners and politicians to dilute the journalism for a few easy bucks? Will he still want Steve Lopez to skewer a major institution that is a business partner? We don't know yet, but I hope so. If he doesn't, my guess is he'll be a failure in the eyes of Times readers and weaken the paper's already tenuous hold on the hearts and minds of SoCal news consumers.

In 2010, the New York news and opinion site The Observer said there was a nickname for D'Vorkin around Forbes: Darth D'Vorkin.

Mr. D’Vorkin, recently installed as Forbes‘ chief product officer, thinks of stories as product. And the most efficient way to churn out and make money from this product is to create a more efficient editing process with fewer layers. “Moving forward, when I look at an operation like Forbes, I look at a mixture of a full-time staff base and hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of freelance contributors. It’s that blend,” Mr. D’Vorkin said.


D'Vorkin's hiring as editor in chief of the Los Angeles Times also comes with the addition of a new president, Mickie Rosen, who is a longtime colleague of publisher Levinsohn. Tronc is also putting Levinsohn in charge of other aspects of the company's digital strategies.

Below is Levinsohn's email to the newsroom Monday morning. The Times covered its news here. CNN here.

Dear Colleagues,


As I walked through the “Globe” lobby just over six weeks ago, I came with a determination that the Los Angeles Times would continue to flourish and become an even more aggressive, competitive and sustainable organization.

The past few weeks have been busy. I have listened and learned, gathering information from you, partners and influencers in our community to understand how we move the brand forward.

I hope that you have all had the chance to watch the presentations from Orlando. If not, a recording is available on TribLink. There, I briefly outlined the strategy that I believe will position us for the future by delivering impactful journalism across ALL platforms, from the newspaper to mobile apps to connected devices and more.

As Justin outlined in Orlando, the Los Angeles Times Media Group now has a broader mandate within tronc. In addition to publishing the newspaper and digital properties of the Los Angeles Times, we will assume certain content, marketing and product responsibilities on a tronc-wide basis, and we will manage additional business units: Tribune Content Agency (TCA), The Daily Meal, For Sale By Owner (FSBO) and The Cube.

The Los Angeles Times is a vibrant brand. Our work has never been more important. We need leaders who embrace our history with an eye towards the future and grasp the opportunity to build upon our foundation. Our business also needs to evolve for a rapidly changing media and consumer landscape, and we need leaders who know how to do that quickly, decisively and with integrity.

With that in mind, I am thrilled to announce two significant additions to our leadership team.

After reviewing, interviewing and meeting more than 80 potential candidates, Lewis D’Vorkin will be joining us as Editor-in-Chief. Lewis is a transformational and highly-respected editor, and he is one of the leading digital innovators in the media industry. He joins us from Forbes, where he held roles including Executive Editor, Editor and Chief Product Officer. During his distinguished career, he has served as Page One Editor for The Wall Street Journal, Senior Editor at Newsweek and Editor at The New York Times. He made his mark digitally in 2000, when he took over and ran News, Sports and Network programming for AOL at its zenith. He then founded a start-up technology platform company, which Forbes Media purchased and used as the foundation for its digital transformation. Under his leadership, Forbes magazine readership has reached its highest levels in its 100-year history, the Forbes.com audience has increased from 15 million to 59 million and its social following has grown to over 30 million. I’m including Lewis’ bio below to give you a fuller picture of his experience.

Lewis was our first choice after an extensive search, and it’s a testament to the strength of our brand that he chose to join us. He has the utmost admiration for the work that we do and a lot of ideas about how to support and extend our excellent journalism. We expect that Lewis will join us officially on November 1, and he will be here in Los Angeles tomorrow to meet as many of you as possible. We will hold an all-hands newsroom discussion with Lewis and Jim tomorrow in the community room at 11am.

Effective immediately, Mickie Rosen will be joining us as President. Many of you have met Mickie over the past month. During her career at the intersection of media and technology, she has built and led businesses for both iconic global brands, including Yahoo! and Fox, and emerging early stage consumer Internet companies like Fandango. She will play an integral role in driving our strategy at the Los Angeles Times Media Group as well as the digital evolution across tronc. While Mickie was born in Japan, she considers herself a native Angeleno/Southern Californian – growing up in North Hollywood, attending UCLA (and graduating from UCSD) and spending most of her career here in Los Angeles. She will have oversight of product development, design, engineering, digital marketing and data analytics across tronc, and business development for the Los Angeles Times Media Group’s assets. She will also manage additional business units including TCA, FSBO and The Daily Meal and will be charged with launching new vertical content brands across the company.

I believe the Los Angeles Times is THE leading voice of California, and I know that we can grow our cultural voice globally. I am confident that together we will accelerate our evolution and the digital transformation of tronc and produce its next stage of growth – always keeping our sights trained on our mission of producing ground-breaking and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism.

I want to extend a sincere thank you to Jim Kirk for the significant contribution he has made as Interim Executive Editor, leading the newsroom at a time of significant change. He will continue to be a presence in our newsroom during the transition and possibly beyond!

As exciting as my first six weeks have been, the coming year presents even more opportunities to pursue our bold plans and further promote a culture of innovation. I can’t imagine a more exciting time to be at the Los Angeles Times. We’re just getting started!
Thank you for all your continued commitment.
Sincerely,
Ross

Lewis D’Vorkin bio provided by LA Times:

Lewis D’Vorkin is a seasoned journalist and media pioneer, bringing 40 years of experience in both traditional and new media platforms. He has most recently served as Chief Product Officer at Forbes, leading the editorial, product and technology teams for Forbes Media and its related brands for the past seven years. During his time, he spearheaded a unique content-creation model and developed a worldwide publishing platform for distributed authorship. He also introduced the news industry’s leading native advertising solution (BrandVoice) and supervised the creation of The New Newsroom, which integrates editorial, data analysis, product development, engineering and social distribution to foster real-time connections between readers, content creators and marketers.


D’Vorkin has years of journalism experience as the Page One Editor of The Wall Street Journal, a Senior Editor at Newsweek, an Editor at The New York Times for the newspaper’s daily and Sunday editions and Executive Editor of Forbes from December 1996 to April 2000. Additionally, D’Vorkin was founder and Chief Executive Officer of True/Slant, a web-based original content news network, which Forbes Media invested in and then acquired in May 2010, and he served as Senior Vice President of Programming at AOL, where he was responsible for the portal’s Welcome Screen, News, Sports and Network Programming.



Mickie Rosen bio from the LAT:

Mickie Rosen has extensive operating, strategy and investment experience at the intersection of media and technology, for both large established companies and early stage start-ups. Mickie currently sits on the Board of Directors of Pandora Media and Fairfax Media in Australia.


Most recently, Mickie served as Senior Advisor to the Boston Consulting Group (“BCG”), was a partner and co-founder of a boutique strategic advisory firm, Whisper Advisors, and advised emerging and growth companies and corporations globally.

Mickie served as Senior Vice President of Global Media & Commerce for Yahoo!, where she led Yahoo!’s media division globally, overseeing product, design, engineering, content creation, acquisition and programming, business development, partnerships and marketing solutions. Prior to Yahoo!, she was a partner with Fuse Capital, investing in early stage publishing, video and advertising technology companies. She was also Senior Vice President & General Manager of Entertainment for Fox Interactive Media, where she ran multiple properties and was a lead in envisioning and negotiating the OTT leader, Hulu. Earlier in her career, she was an executive with The Walt Disney Company and Fandango.

Mickie built the foundation of her career with McKinsey & Company and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.


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