Yesterday, the Tribune newspapers – including the Los Angeles Times – began life on their own, liberated from the Tribune Company (or, if you prefer, amputated) and "spun off" into their own company, Tribune Publishing, now listed on the New York Stock Exchange as TPUB.
We'll get to how that went in a minute (spoiler: not well), but first let's note that yesterday also marked yet another high profile departure: Robert Faturechi, who'd covered the Sheriff's Department for years and who was recently featured on This American Life. Three months ago, the 27-year-old Faturechi switched over to the tech beat in San Francisco; now he's off to Pro Publica.
According to one source, that's now 48 (!) newsroom staffers that have left the Times in 2014 alone, a mass exodus brought on by a dour newsroom mood and an improving economy.
In the last year, the vibe in the Times newsroom has gone from a general anxiety over layoffs and who's going to buy the paper to one of depression over everyone leaving. More and more reporters and editors are exploring their options.
"I don’t know what to say about the mood," reports one editor who recently left. "It’s grim. I was shocked when I went over to another news organization and people were happy."
He adds that a lot of the bad feelings are over "how the current leadership is leading us into this transition. People don’t have a lot of confidence that this is going to succeed."
The good news for reporters is that there are in fact jobs out there.
Faturechi is the latest in a long line of writers and editors who have left the Times in the last year. There was investigative reporter Andrew Blankstein, who left to join NBC last August. Then there was investigative reporter Ken Bensinger, who left to join Buzzfeed in January. In a staff memo, Times Editor-in-Chief Davan Maharaj derisively said Bensinger was "excited about learning the art and science of click bait." That didn't stop Jessica Garrison from joining Bensinger in April.
There was also Ken Dilanian (jumped to the Associated Press in May) and Joe Flint (went back to the Wall St. Journal in July). And last week, it was announced that foreign editor Mark Porubcansky is leaving. Instead of replacing him, the Times is combining Foreign and National desks.
One ex-LA Times writer said mournfully, "This has always been a business that's like a baton pass. The older generation passes it to new one. When you start driving out people with experience and they can’t pass on those lessons, the whole enterprise suffers."
The departures, he said, have a way of snowballing: "Every time someone leaves it causes you to think, what about me? Should I be looking at other things? When is this thing going to explode? Especially when bigger names go out the door."
Another ex-reporter pushed back a little: "It sucks when your colleagues, especially the well liked-ones, leave. But I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom or anything. People are still working on ambitious stuff. People are still excited to come to work."
Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan declined to confirm the number of departures and rather cheerfully pointed out that the paper has made 10 recent hires.
Anyway. Yesterday's spinoff means that the L.A. Times is no longer part of a media company; it's now part of a chain of nine newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and Virginia Gazette. The new CEO of Tribune Publishing is Jack Griffin, who ran Time's magazine division for a bit.
TPUB's stock debuted yesterday and promptly lost four percent of its value, while the Tribune Media Company, free from the dead tree albatross hanging around its neck, gained a few points, leading to this funny tweet from L.A. Times data wiz Ben Welsh:
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The Tribune papers were widely expected to have been sold by now. Instead, they're being sold on the stock exchange. Control of the paper isn't likely to pass for at least six more months according to newspaper economist Ken Doctor. The three financial companies – Oaktree, Angel, Gordon and JPMorgan Chase – need to hold on to their 40% stake in TPUB for at least 180 days in order to save a ton of money in taxes, according to Doctor.
So in six months, sale rumors might heat up again.
Unfortunately, the papers got something of a raw deal in the split. Tribune Media kept the real estate, which means the L.A. Times will now have to pay rent in order to work out of that massive fortress in Downtown. The papers also had to pay their former daddy a one-time dividend of $325 million.
If there's any good news at all, it's that all those departures will lessen the need for layoffs. We hope.