LA Times to get new top editor on Monday

jim-kirk-latimes.jpgLA Times photo

Story updated after posting.

The ugly, pointless reign of Lewis D'Vorkin as editor in chief of the Los Angeles Times is apparently over. This is how bad it was: On Monday, former interim editor Jim Kirk will return from New York to take over the very, very disgruntled LAT newsroom, the New York Times reported Sunday night. The Los Angeles Times posted its own story at 8:20 p.m. confirming the news.

D'Vorkin will be moved to chief content officer for Tronc, the odd little parent company of the LA Times and several other newspapers. According to media analyst Ken Doctor, also out is Micki Rosen, the LA Times president who was a protege of suspended publisher Ross Levinsohn. Like D'Vorkin, she will move into some kind of unspecified corporate role with Tronc.

"My message to the newsroom will be that we will be working together as one team starting tomorrow to do the best work we can,” Kirk said in the NYT piece by media reporter Sydney Ember.

Kirk had come to Los Angeles last August when Tronc fired LAT editor and publisher Davan Maharaj. Kirk, who carried the title of interim editor, had been publisher and editor of the Chicago Sun-Times when that newspaper was owned by Tronc's top guy Michael Ferro. I'm not sure what if any impact Kirk had on the LA newsroom, but he stayed for the first few months of the Lewis D'Vorkin regime and had a part in trying to discourage the staff from voting for the NewsGuild. Kirk and Tronc lost that battle in a landslide — the LAT newsroom voted 248-44 to unionize — and Kirk was recently was moved to the New York Daily News to be interim editor of Tronc's newest acquisition.

Now he's coming back to once again take over leadership of the LA Times. Again, not sure what he brings talent or experience-wise that doesn't already exist in the LAT newsroom. Most of the top editors would out-rank him in any index of journalism accomplishments. But he does have the confidence of Tronc, and he's from Chicago. He felt like a place-filler when he was here last year, and he probably will on his return, though this time he follows D'Vorkin so the only way to go from there is up, if even slightly. From Ken Doctor:

As Kirk takes on the job at the Times, it will become his fourth title within Tronc since being hired less than six months ago. After a new set of local buyers purchased the Chicago Sun-Times, which he headed, Tronc named Kirk “senior vice president of strategic initiatives” last summer. Then, he quickly became the L.A. Times’ interim executive editor when publisher/editor Davan Maharaj was fired. Then, 10 days ago, Tronc named him “interim editor-in-chief” of its just-bought New York Daily News, a financially ailing property now further beset by two high-profile executive sexual harassment cases. With Kirk taking the top job in Los Angeles, Tronc now must name a new top editor, interim or permanent, at the Daily News. Expect that name to be announced this week as well.

Tronc’s appointment of Kirk — given credit by a number of people in the Times newsroom for being approachable and conversational, in contrast to the aloof D’Vorkin — tells us two things. The first is that Tronc chairman Michael Ferro, who had employed Kirk at the Sun-Times when his ownership group controlled the paper, has great confidence in him. Second, Tronc’s woefully thin bench of talent — in both news leadership and business leadership, from L.A. to New York — complicates Tronc’s ability to innovate.

These moves represent the second sweep of Times management in less than half a year.

The D'Vorkin-created mess hit a crescendo last week when he threw popular Times business editor Kimi Yoshino out of the building — the staff still doesn't know why that happened — and new stories in the Washington Post, HuffPost, Nieman Lab and Variety talked about the uproar that the LA Times is in.

Part of the upset is due to Tronc's hiring of new outside editors who have yet to be announced to the staff or even to have their roles disclosed, and creation of what the HuffPost called a "shadow staff of scabs" loyal to D'Vorkin. Most disturbing was the revelation that the shadow editors and reporters were reporting to a marketing executive, not the journalist side of the company, and that the business side was already starting to take over operation of social media accounts. During coverage of Sunday night's Grammys, the Times social media accounts were putting out duplicate posts and giving a muddled report on the proceedings — one team apparently had no idea what the other team on a different floor was doing.

In tonight's LAT story, CEO Justin Dearborn doesn't address those reports directly.

"We are continuing to invest in high-quality journalism, which will always be the company's top priority," said Dearborn. "Jim Kirk is a talented news veteran who is the ideal person to lead the Los Angeles Times newsroom. We believe his established passion for news, and his management experience with big-city news teams, make him uniquely qualified."

The mess D'Vorkin created was putting the future of the LA Times as a local journalism force in dire jeopardy. And the word was getting out. Long Beach mayor Robert Garcia tweeted this weekend that the local journalism picture in Southern California was precarious, citing also cutbacks at the Press-Telegram and the end of LA Weekly as a trustworthy voice.

That turned into one of the most viral retweets from the LA Observed account in a few months, with more than a thousand engagements in Twitter-speak. I haven't seen any comments from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the City Council or the civic group that called for local ownership of the Times during the Sam Zell siege. But it's heartening to see people waking up to the possibility that the LA Times would go away as a local news provider.

Another thing going on involves one of the editors secretly hired by D'Vorkin to fill some mysterious role at the LA Times. Louise Story, a New York Times reporter who used to be an editor there, reportedly would form and run some kind of national investigative team, but no one involved in investigations today apparently knows for sure. She's one of the editors who at least initially is listed on internal sites as reporting to the business side, not the journalism side.

Story was called out by former NYT columnist Joseph Nocera and she responded in her only social media comment so far on possibly coming to the LAT or Tronc.

Doctor notes in tonight's story that some of those new hire might be rethinking if they want to step into this mess.

As I’ve reported, those hires include executives from The New York Times, Hearst, GOOD Worldwide, and Hyperloop One. A number of the dozen hires, though all under contract, still remain unannounced. In fact, the unannounced include some who haven’t yet done any work for Tronc, or participated in the now-questioned content syndication strategy. It’s not even clear that they knew that they were going to work for new company — the Los Angeles Times Network LLC — rather than the established Times, when they agreed to take their positions. That’s put some of them in a sticky — now publicly sticky — situation.


As the dust settles, these new hires will learn whether Tronc intends to continue the content syndication strategy full-bore or to cut it back. Similarly, the new hires, especially those with journalistic credibility, must decide if they want to part of whatever Tronc has planned. With Levinsohn’s future role uncertain, D’Vorkin may well be in charge of the syndication effort? Finally, with the initiative being widely labeled a “union-busting” move, justifiably or not, what sort of ability will the new managers have to make it succeed? Expect one or more of the unannounced new hires to step back from coming to Tronc.

And indeed, tonight's New York Times story reports that Story has "decided not to join Tronc" after all. A tweet from the NYT refers to Story as a "former New York Times reporter and editor." Any of the "shadow" hires who actually come will now report to D'Vorkin in his new role as content officer for Tronc, rather than at the LA Times, the NYT piece says.

LA Times columnist Robin Abcarian:

Many LA Times staffers have not been shy about voicing their concerns about the D'Vorkin era on social media.

The guild team at the Times put out a statement Sunday night about Kirk's return.

The Los Angeles Times Guild would like to congratulate Jim Kirk on being named the next editor in chief of the Los Angeles Times. We also look forward to working together in the future as one team — and we look forward to hearing his plans for the paper.

— The Los Angeles Times Guild steering committee

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