L.A. Times at the Abyss
"It was a really, really depressing thing," says the L.A. Times
reporter. "If you weren't depressed before you came in, you were
The staffer, who spoke to the L.A. Weekly on condition of anonymity,
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was describing the scene in the Times' newsroom last Friday, when Times
editor Russ Stanton personally announced a few changes - 20 minutes after outlining them in an email soon posted by L.A. Observed.
Things like the folding of the paper's California section into Section
A in March, and the loss of 300 jobs - 70 of which would come from the
very room in which the assembled reporters were gathered.
"We're used to these announcements -- this was the fourth one in the past year," the reporter says. "There was the usual talk about our 'commitment to do great journalism' and how this will be 'a terrible time for our colleagues who are leaving.' Then Stanton said the Tribune Company could go the way of Circuit City and you could hear a pin drop."
Staffers had known for weeks something was coming. At first the word had been that there might be 150 sackings, but that figure was later dropped to between 50 and 60. There had already been talk about California getting folded, then, however, the news came out that it would be the Business section instead. But Friday arrived and it was all spelled out - including the announcement that severances, when approved by a bankruptcy court, would not be as generous as they had until only recently, when staffers received two weeks pay for every year worked.
The only silver lining Stanton offered his audience was that he was trying to ensure that the California-section reporters would be the least hard hit when the layoffs come in the next few weeks. Besides editorial, the biggest hits are expected on the business side, where advertising-sales staff members fear their jobs are about to be contracted out. And, because the folding of California means one less print run, the move will also hit the pressmen and designers.
As the Los Angeles Times staggers through what is shaping up to be its Year Zero, the mood at L.A.'s paper of record is more whimper than bang.
"There were," the Times reporter recalls, "some pointed questions about why this was being done - we'd been told in the fall that those [cuts would be] the last. You knew it wasn't Stanton's call - he said January was one of the worst Januarys in years. There was more resignation than anger."