Mid-week notes: Janice Min, the LA Times and a big move in Sacramento

Janice Min and the LA Times

Interesting revelation on Tuesday from Janice Min, the editor who successfully reinvented the Hollywood Reporter. She told the Code Media conference in Huntington Beach that Tronc officials had approached her last year about taking a role at the Los Angeles Times. At the time, Tronc's Michael Ferro was looking around for a possible buyer of the Times. "They were terrified of their newsroom," she said of the Chicagoans who came in determined to experiment with some kind of new, untested form of news gathering and presentation.

Min might actually be the right kind of non-traditional editor (or publisher) for the Times. She could help the paper move, as it must, even further from its print roots while also giving the LA Times a needed refresh as a culture chronicler. She also is more familiar with Southern California than the current editor.

From a story at Recode:

Tronc’s chairman, Michael Ferro, was speaking to multiple potential buyers for the paper, including the investment firm Min works with, Eldridge Industries.

“Ferro was on a charm offensive with major players in Hollywood,” she said. “And so our owners briefly looked at the Los Angeles Times. It’s a jewel.”

Ultimately, she withdrew her name, saying the owner’s intention to create a national content network was ultimately unclear. The bigger issue, according to Min, was just how uncomfortable owners were with the Los Angeles Times newsroom.

“I think one of the things that was interesting to me is they were terrified of their newsroom,” she said. “They clearly didn’t want to interact with them.”

Now, with the sale to biotech billionaiore Patrick Soon-Shiong, Min says “I think the Los Angeles Times is an amazing opportunity.” She cautioned that it's unclear what Soon-Shiong has planned. “It’s all about the ownership... Someone will do something amazing with it." There's video of Min's conversation at the Recode link.

Times staff elects guild officers — just in time
The LA Times was sold away from Tronc just before, it seems, the other shoe fell. The company on Tuesday announced a massive reorganization of its remaining newspapers, including the creation of a central design and production studio in Chicago. Included are plans to re-think every newsroom position and, the company promised, to invest in some staffers with resources and raises. That probably means cuts in staffing and also is an obvious strategy to avoid what just happened at the Los Angeles Times: an overwhelming vote to create a newsroom union. Read the entire Tronc memo lower on this page.

Meanwhile, the LA Times Guild held its first membership meeting on Tuesday night and elected its first officers. The co-chairs of the new guild are culture writer Carolina Miranda and data journalist Anthony Pesce. The secretary-treasurer is reporter Matt Hamilton.

The vice-chairs are reporters Paul Pringle, Bettina Boxall, Geoff Mohan, Sarah Parvini and Matt Pearce, editorial writer Carla Hall, copy editor Kristina Bui, photojournalist Brian van der Brug and community news reporter Andy Nguyen.

Washington Post is becoming what the LAT used to be
The Washington Post is opening new bureaus in Rome and Hong Kong and adding a second reporter in Mexico City to cover Latin America. The Post had recently added foreign bureaus in Paris, Istanbul, and Brussels, and in January named the former Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian as a writer for the Post's WorldViews blog. The Post says it will have 27 reporters based in 19 foreign locations.

“As a growing number of overseas readers turn to The Washington Post, we see potential to reach an even larger audience interested in deep, nuanced international reporting,” said executive editor Martin Baron. Both Baron and the Post's foreign editor, Douglas Jehl, were at the LA Times when the LAT had the most foreign bureaus of any U.S. newpaper (except for possibly the NYT — they vied in those days for the title of most bureaus, IIRC.) Baron, by the way, took part in a journalism conference this week at USC.

Dan Morain leaving the Bee for CalMatters
CalMatters_Staff_Photo_8Dec2017.jpgThe CalMatters staff in December.

Dan Morain, the editorial page editor and political affairs columnist at the Sacramento Bee, is the latest mainstream (and former Los Angeles Times) journalist to jump to Sacramento news start up CalMatters. He joins former Bee writers Dan Walters and Laurel Rosenhall, ex-AP reporter Judy Lin, former LAT staffers Dave Lesher, Linda Rogers and Julie Cart and others. From the site:

dan-morain-calmatters.jpgMorain, who has focused on state government and politics for much of his career, will take on a new role of building an expanded commentary and perspectives section of smart and diverse voices to share their insights about California’s biggest issues and challenges. He’ll also produce a daily newsletter starting in April featuring must-read content from across the state to keep readers in the know, and contribute his own insightful columns.

CALmatters will share Morain’s work with a network of more than 130 print, radio and online publications that it has developed since its launch as a nonprofit in 2015. Morain’s addition at this juncture reflects the spotlight CALmatters will shine this year on the vitally important 2018 gubernatorial and state legislative races, which will define California’s future.

“Dan knows the issues, the people, the process and where the secrets are hidden. His work will give readers a smart and simple understanding about what is happening and why,” said David Lesher, editor and CEO of CALmatters.

LA Times staffers say that Lesher and CalMatters board member Leo Wolinsky were spotted at the Times this week. Not surprising, given that CalMatters shares its content with media outlets around the state.

Valentine's cards from your friends at the LAT
lat-valday-405.jpg Now this is an original newspaper online feature. Members of the The Los Angeles Times staff designed and wrote "L.A.-inspired" Valentine's Day cards and offered them to readers. Check them out.

NYT opinion writer in and out quickly
After the NYT said on Tuesday afternoon that tech writer Quinn Norton had joined the editorial board as lead opinion writer on the "power, culture and consequences of technology," there was an instant backlash on social media. Twitter users quickly found posts where Norton wrote of being a friend of prominent neo-Nazis and where she used the term "faggots." Critics questioned why the New York Times would bring her in, and wondered if the paper had even done a cursory check at her past.

By Tuesday evening, a representative for the paper said "we are very concerned about the tweets that are circulating today and are looking into the matter." By the end of the evening, she was gone. "Norton said on Twitter that she would no longer be working with the Times," CNN's Tom Kludt reported.

NYT editorial page editor James Bennet issued a statement that said, "Despite our review of Quinn Norton's work and our conversations with her previous employers, this was new information to us. Based on it, we've decided to go our separate ways."

But also this: "The Daily," the NYT's popular podcast hosted by Michael Barbaro, will air on American Public Media starting in the spring. Says Current: "The Times will produce a daily 30-minute radio version of the podcast for distribution to stations starting in April."

Twisted: Harrowing crime series from KNBC
Twist.jpgDigital news producer Jason Kandel has produced a six-part series for the KNBC Channel 4 website on a horrific Orange County crime that came to light after a bound woman and her tortured roommate were found on a dark desert road near Mojave. I've only seen the first part and it's a pretty gripping narrative.

Twisted: An unbelievable crime in the desert and the hunt for the culprits. Excerpt:

While repeatedly demanding to know "where's the money," the kidnappers burned him with a blowtorch, shocked him with a stun gun and mutilated him. Later, they doused him in bleach to try to erase any DNA or physical evidence they might have left and abandoned the pair on a desolate dirt road before dawn Oct. 2, 2012....

The crime became known as one of the most sadistic and twisted in Orange County history. It sparked a sprawling investigation in the search for the kidnappers and swept across several countries in the hunt for the suspected mastermind, a man named Hossein Nayeri.

Authorities said he had a history of fleeing the law and a convenient hiding place — Iran, where he was born and which has no extradition treaty with the United States.

This story would have been remarkable had it ended with Nayeri's dramatic arrest at Václav Havel Airport in Prague, but it didn't.

Part two posts on Thursday, I'm told.

Must read: Facebook and the Russians
wired-cover-zuckerberg.pngWired investigated how Facebook's defensiveness over accusations two years ago that its algorithms were biased against Republicans led Mark Zuckerberg and his team to miss the scale and damage of Russian intrusions into Facebook during the 2016 election. By the way, anybody who doesn't yet grok that Russian interests methodically invaded and manipulated U.S. social media during the election campaign doesn't need to read this. They can use the time they save to marvel at the Earth's flatness.

Cover story. Sample:

WIRED spoke with 51 current or former Facebook employees for this article, many of whom did not want their names used, for reasons anyone familiar with the story of [Benjamin] Fearnow and [Ryan] Villarreal would surely understand. (One current employee asked that a WIRED reporter turn off his phone so the company would have a harder time tracking whether it had been near the phones of anyone from Facebook.)

The stories varied, but most people told the same basic tale: of a company, and a CEO, whose techno-optimism has been crushed as they’ve learned the myriad ways their platform can be used for ill. Of an election that shocked Facebook, even as its fallout put the company under siege. Of a series of external threats, defensive internal calculations, and false starts that delayed Facebook’s reckoning with its impact on global affairs and its users’ minds. And—in the tale’s final chapters—of the company’s earnest attempt to redeem itself.

This week: Russia will try to disrupt the 2018 elections, intelligence chiefs warn

Media, books and authors
In advance of this month's layoffs, larger papers in the Southern California News Group — including the Register — are shrinking their print editions and moving local news to the front section. The papers are billing it as an improvement for readers. They also went front-page with a long story on a woman who swears she saw three Bigfoot-type creatures around Lake Arrowhead.... Elizabeth Rose, a former Vice Media employee, alleges in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the company intentionally pays female staffers less than males.... PBS "Frontline" will air a special investigative report on Harvey Weinstein and his efforts to silence allegations on March 2. Ronan Farrow and Kim Masters are featured in the trailer... This year's $35,000 Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting from USC goes to Mike Baker and Justin Mayo of the Seattle Times. Their series revealed that a prominent Seattle-area neuroscience institute was growing rapidly while staff members were expressing alarm, internally, about patient care. The editor of the series, Matt Doig, then moved to the LA Times as investigations editor and was one of the top editors lopped off by Tronc last year... CNN Digital is restructuring and will lay off some staffers. The number is "fewer than 50" out of a CNN Digital staff of 600, Brian Stelter says... Can blogs and other independent web journalism survive? MediaShift examines the question... The New York Times star reporter on the Trump beat, Maggie Haberman, was interviewed in a Times Insider feature by Jennifer Steinhauer, the congressional reporter who used to be in the paper's Los Angeles bureau. Excerpt... Former Trump aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman said on "Celebrity Big Brother" that Vice President Mike Pence would be worse for the country than President Donald Trump. "As bad as y'all think Trump is, you would be worried about Pence," she told her housemates. "He's extreme...I'm Christian, I love Jesus, but he thinks Jesus tells him to say things — I'm like, 'Jesus didn't say that.' Scary."... Minute by minute: What if Oroville Dam’s spillway had failed one year ago?... The Washington Post did a story on the sudden appearance of electric scooters irks Santa Monica officials... Tyler Green now has a cover for his upcoming UC Press book on photographer Carleton Watkins.

Spring fever: With baseball spring training beginning, subscription-based start-up The Athletic has added more baseball writers from legacy media. Pedro Moura comes from the LAT: "I left the 137-year-old Los Angeles Times to join a 24-month-old startup. I will always believe in The Times’ importance to its city, but this was no difficult decision." Emma Span is the site's new baseball editor.

Also this from actor Bryan Cranston:

Selected media tweets

That Tronc memo
Here is the announcement to Tronc newsrooms about the upcoming reorganization of the company's newspapers and journalists. "We fully understand that change of this scale can be challenging and disruptive," it says. "But it can also be liberating, invigorating and filled with new opportunities." Oh good!
Dear Newsroom Colleague,

We are excited to share plans we have been working on over the past six months to reimagine how our newsrooms deliver on our journalistic mission and accelerate our transformation to a truly digital-focused company.

Excellence in journalism remains our top priority.

This conversion is about creating more meaningful journalism that our audiences want and delivering it at a faster clip; developing new approaches to engage our readers, both directly and through our original reporting; and focusing on topics and approaches that our audiences find the most relevant.

Investment is a critical part of the plan. The pending sale of the California News Group will allow us to accelerate our investments in people and technology. To thrive as the digital leader in our markets, we recognize that our local newsrooms must reward their high performers, hire new talent, and train their journalists to excel at existing and emerging digital platforms.

We also need to provide the newsrooms with the tools they need to better engage their readers. The rollout of the Arc publishing platform is only a first step to do just that.

Throughout this process, we have worked diligently with each Publisher and Editor-in-Chief to incorporate their insight, based in part on conversations they have been having as part of a Newsroom 2020 planning initiative we began last year. Together we have developed a framework for the newsroom of the future.

Our local newsrooms are redefining their jobs and structure so that people are in the best position to create and deliver news content for the rapidly changing demands of our audience. We will become smarter about using audience data to respond to readership trends, while identifying stories and topics that connect with our audience.

This applies not just for daily breaking news but also for the high-impact enterprise work that is the foundation of the company’s mission: factually informing our audience and being a community leader.

Excellent journalism that people value makes us stand out from the crowd. Knowing more about what people value—particularly our paying subscribers—is critical to our financial and journalistic success.

What else is critical to our success? Our people.

As part of this process, we want to reinforce how highly we value our talent across the company and recognize the efforts you all put forth on a daily basis. As we implement our plans to move the business forward, we are committed to supporting our local newsrooms in providing competitive compensation for all our editorial colleagues.

Over the next six weeks, while positions are being determined in line with our plan, we expect each local newsroom to review base compensation; where appropriate each newsroom will make pay increases reflecting either change in responsibility and/or adjusting to market. All pay changes for staffers not governed by collective bargaining will go into effect on April 1.

Additionally, we will collaborate with each local market to develop a merit, performance-based compensation pool tied to executing on our transformation plan. Each local market is expected to put the appropriate metrics in place during the performance achievement process.

This reorganization is a transitional process, and we’re counting on each newsroom to fill in the details for its particular market. But we do know this: Our newsrooms will be flatter. We will have fewer job titles across the newsrooms and across the company and a higher reporter-to-editor ratio. We will use openings as an opportunity to add diversity of skills and backgrounds, both with hires and promotions.

Each newsroom will decide how roles, responsibilities and performance standards need to change to meet market needs. And we believe the new structure will provide new pathways for journalists to grow and thrive.

Despite changes made over the last decade to become more digitally focused, our newsrooms are still tied to the demands of the daily print newspaper production cycle. So, like other leading news organizations that have taken bold steps to hasten their digital transformation, we will create a new central business unit headquartered in Chicago, called the Design and Production Studio, or DPS, to produce all our print newspapers.

The DPS will hire a team of accomplished page designers and respected news editors from our newsrooms in Chicago and other markets. In collaboration with the editorial managers within each business unit, the DPS team will compile the best content our newsrooms and partners offer into daily print newspapers that serve our most loyal subscribers and advertisers. Content will be created, edited and prioritized in each newsroom by local staffers working in SNAP. Decisions about what stories go on Page One and local coverage choices will remain in each local newsroom. Details about other weekly, monthly and other products will be shared as plans are finalized.

Last week, the company announced the development of a central team at Tribune Interactive (TI) that will create new digital products and build out a growing syndication network housed within Tribune Content Agency. We are still in the early stages of those initiatives, but we see them being additive to the primary work produced by each of our newsrooms. We will gather feedback and share more as it develops.

Here’s what’s in the works:

· Each local market will develop and detail its version of our newsroom framework by March 31, with the resulting changes being put in place over the coming months. Group and individual meetings will be held at each news organization by your Publisher and Editor-In-Chief over the next several days to provide greater detail.

· A new local newsroom organizational chart and related job classifications will be shared by supervisors in each market shortly. In most markets, we are happy to report that we are investing in our newsrooms, and on balance local newsrooms will be adding editorial positions in order to increase their local market coverage.

· The Design and Production Studio, which will be led by Cristi Kempf and report to Colin McMahon, will start hiring immediately. For those interested in being considered for these roles, the postings will be available on Inside Track by the end of this week.

During times of organizational change, it is essential that our local leadership provide multiple communication opportunities to both share information and, importantly, receive feedback. Each local leader is developing a comprehensive communication plan. In addition, members of our team will conduct local market visits starting in April.

We fully understand that change of this scale can be challenging and disruptive. But it can also be liberating, invigorating and filled with new opportunities. Our newsrooms have a history of meeting any challenge. And given that the work you do each day is so very important to each of our communities, we’re asking everyone to stay focused during this transformational period.

We appreciate all of your continuing efforts.

Tim Knight

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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
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