Friday, May 20, 2005

Eric Slater Says Tribune Co. Will Give Him A Hearing

Eric Slater telephoned to say that the Tribune Co. has agreed to give him a hearing into his firing by L.A. Times Managing Editor Dean Baquet.

Slater was fired after a Times inquiry ruled that he had misperformed in a story he did earlier this year on a fraternity hazing death at Chico State University, and that, specifically, he could not satisfy management that he had interviewed the sources he said he had.

One issue in the hearing, according to Slater, who had worked for the Times 11 years, including five years in its Chicago bureau, is whether he deserves severance pay. Slater says the Times cut him off without a dime after the firing, and did not even permit him to take all his files away from the paper.

He reports that when he approached the Tribune Co., owners of the Times, he was told that its employee relations department had not received any report from Los Angeles on the events leading up to his termination.

This, in itself, may not mean much, however, since editors at major newspapers often hire and fire without much notice to their employee relations departments. On the other hand, under the Tribune, many employee relations operations have been centralized in Chicago.

Any inquiry by the Tribune Co. into the Slater firing by Baquet could be of considerable interest, if only because the exact relations between the Tribune Co. and Times management are somewhat cloudy. While the Tribune owns the Times, it said when it purchased the paper in 2000 that it would give local Times executives considerable autonomy. However, since last year, after circulation and advertising declines became manifest, Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimmons has required the Times to cut back both staff members and other costs in an attempt to improve profit margins at the Times.

In fact, FitzSimmons and a colleague flew to the Burbank Airport in the spring of 2004, soon after the Times won an unprecedented five Pulitzer Prizes, summoned Baquet and editor John Carroll to the airport and curtly informed them of the cutbacks, without so much as ever coming downtown to the Times offices.

A number of employees have reported that the cost-cutting at the Times has severely impacted morale. Among the persons to have lost their job is the Tribune-appointed publisher, John Puerner, although he depicted his departure as voluntary.

Slater has confided that he first became aware that Baquet was dissatisfied with his performance in 2003, when he received a nasty message from the managing editor complaining that he had left Benton Harbor, Mich., too soon after being sent there to cover race riots.

Baquet, while cultivating a reputation in some circles as easy going, can be sharp in both his judgments and actions regarding personnel. There have been a number of reassignments and de facto terminations at the Times.

Possible high-handedness extended last week to the Times editorial pages when their director, Michael Kinsley, suddenly informed five editorial writers, including Pulitzer Prize-winning Alex Raksin, that they were being transferred to other jobs.

Even before the Tribune took over, and Baquet, formerly with the New York Times, was installed as managing editor, some high-level reassignments resulted in what reportedly have been sizable legal settlements. This was the case with the longtime national editor, Mike Miller, and the woman in charge of Metro for awhile, Carol Stogsdill.

Both Miller and Stogsdill retained attorneys to bargain with the Times. Now, Slater says he too has retained an attorney.


Blogger shelly sloan said...

It is with mixed emotions that I join you as a spectator in what appears to be the decline of a once great and leading newspaper.

Over the years my attitude, which I suspect is shared by many, has changed dramatically.

Once, I used to awaken and reach for the Times almost as a bible, to tell me what has happened in Los Angeles overnight.

When I traveled, I left specific orders that the Times be kept, unread, in a pile so that upon my return I could read what I had missed about what was going on in Los Angeles.

No more.

I find what I need on the Internet, as do many more each day.

The special insights that were provided by the Times are a dwindling asset.

What used ot be a provocative and interesting, current Editorial Page has turned into a mishmash of pure, unadulterated crap.

Michael Kinsley should be fired, or worse.

The Editor to whom he reports, John Carroll should be fired.

They are fiddling while Rome burns.

Eric Slater may or may not be guilty of that which he has been charged. Who knows? Who cares, other than Eric?

I fear this is the beginning, or rather, the middle, of the end of the Times. The end is not far away.

I won't miss it; I will miss the ability to criticize it.

5/21/2005 5:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A personal vendetta got Slater fired? After that graspingly lame correction -sans retraction- firing seemed disproportionate compared to the treatment of other journalists (there was never the standard hint of prior problems, a feature common to legitimate dismissals) - AND for one article? A Vendetta from the top, that would make more sense. After all if the decision to fire was made long ago that would explain the eagerness to nearly slander slater during the professional ethical investigation, the clearest picture of which is found in the Chico paper

, where Jim Newton’s on site probe was exposed extensively (he never had the wits to say ‘no comment’ during the ONGOING INVESTIGATION). His remarks do NOT imply a decision was YET TO BE MADE, merely rubber stamped. TO BAD THEY DID NOT CHECK with CHICAGO apparently.

Now who’s head is on the chopping block?

And now on June 1st the TRIBUNE boot print will be seen in more foreheads. What will Jeff Johnson read after nauseating circulation numbers? Would a scandal featuring personal feelings, an ‘honest’ probe, and god knows what else be a plus? Send the man an antacid.

One can but wonder if Slater had a New York Times offer (instead of a major screwup) if he could have blackmailed his way to a Time’s Nirvana: writer as god . . . maybe to Denver to be released from drudgery to write a book. OR would HIS threat would have been met with blatant glee on the 3rd floor and the door Torn Open to get rid of the guy.

Of course such pettiness does not exist on Spring Street - RIGHT?

NOW ONLY the Chicago Lawyers run the LA TIMES, only they can predict - do they want to flex their Windy City Muscle? Justice for whom, at the same time a quick shut up/ payoff for Slater to save the bottom line from scandal? How much more humiliation can the TIMES afford? They need little help to look the petty fool...... What will the LOS ANGELES TIMES be in a year? The Los Angeles Tribune perhaps...... thanks to pettiness, stupidity, and Favoritism.

5/23/2005 6:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>> "Slater has confided that he first became aware that Baquet was dissatisfied with his performance in 2003, when he received a nasty message from the managing editor ..."

Not to cast doubt on Slater's statement, but the impression a lot of staffers have is that Baquet doesn't like to get his hands dirty, would rather handle people through his underlings.

5/24/2005 6:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's happening to Slater now? (July 1st) Has he cut his deal w/ Times' mgmt or is he going to pursue his case against them?

7/01/2005 2:19 AM  
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