Saturday, April 21, 2007

L.A. Times Staff To Be Cut 5%, A New Disgrace

The chickenshit CEO of the Tribune Co., Dennis FitzSimons, reinforces the nosedive his papers are in, by announcing a new buyout and, very possibly, layoffs at the L.A. Times amounting to 5%, or approximately 150 jobs.

The cut will be even more severe in the Times newsroom, where 70 of 920 staff members, or about 7%, will be asked to leave. (About 100 staff losses are also mandated for the Chicago Tribune and undoubtedly others for other newspapers unfortunate enough to be owned by Tribune).

Jim Rainey's story, buried on Page 2 of the Times Business section this morning, rather disingenuously declares, "With revenue declining, many employees fear that the only way to sustain cash flow will be with further job reductions."

Tribune Co. announced a 12% reduction in cash flow for the first quarter earlier in the week. But the fact is that every job reduction has been accompanied by a reduction in the news hole and quality of the papers, and, taking this as a sign of failure, readers and advertisers are running for the doors. So, under FitzSimons, all Tribune papers have been in an infernal downward cycle and his new job reductions will only intensify that. Many people who pay money to the Tribune papers do not want to support a sinking ship..

The executives FitzSimons has sent to Los Angeles, publisher David Hiller and editor James O'Shea are, of course, not saying a word against the new staff reductions at the Times. They don't want to follow their predecessors, Jeff Johnson and Dean Baquet, who were terminated when they protested further job cuts as counterproductive.

Quite simply,. Johnson and Baquet did their duty, but Hiller and O'Shea are failing to do theirs, which is to stand by the publication they lead. Editorial employees at the Times numbered about 1,100 when Tribune took over.

The role of the new Tribune owner, Sam Zell, who will not formally take over until the end of the year, in the latest announcements, if any, is not known. But Zell better watch out. By the time he comes on board, the value of his purchase could well have dropped even more than it has already.

I suggested yesterday that Zell somehow get rid of FitzSimons now, with a severance of $3. Let me amend that. FitzSimons should be kicked out now, with no severance. Every year of his domain has been a failure.

Since there have already been innumerable buyouts at the Times, and in many of them the terms are likely to have been more lucrative, (mine certainly was, when I retired three years ago), it is unlikely that this new one will be filled, meaning layoffs of experienced, more highly paid employees. The Times cannot help but be severely hurt by this travesty.

And there is still no assurance that Tribune will invest the money in promotion that would be necessary to avert further circulation declines, declines that in seven awful years of Tribune control already amount to more than 300,000.

FitzSimons is not only zn exceedingly stupid businessman, but a greedy one as well. He has never failed to elevate his own salary while terminating the income of others. Dante would have had little problem deciding in what
circle of hell to place him.


The L.A. Times got off to a good start on its coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre, I thought besting the New York Times in the first and second days. But, as has often been the case in the past, LAT effort dropped off, while the New York Times was staying on in a full court press and coming up with later stories that enhanced public understanding substantially.

Two NYT stories in the last two days have certainly added to what we know. Neither were replicated in the L.A. Times.

First, a story by Marc Santora and Christine Hauser on Friday, reporting that the anger of the killer, Cho Seung-hui, was evident in his writings in his English major, contained the information that eight members of the Virginia Tech faculty had formed an informal "task force" to try to deal with Cho. They got little if any help from the Virginia Tech administration. Second, some students were so scared of Cho, they stopped attending classes in which he was enrolled.

Santora, just back from Iraq, is an outstanding investigative reporter. This report adds fuel to the supposition that the Virginia Tech administration was negligent in letting Cho remain at the school, especially since he had been ruled in a Virginia court to be a danger to himself and possibly others. (Time magazine's Web site has already suggested that the Virginia Tech president, Charles W. Steger, ought, in all decency, to resign. He had the ultimate responsibility for failing to protect the 32 students and faculty members who were murdered),

Second, the Page 1 lead NYT story this morning, by Michael Luo, breaks important new ground by reporting that, actually, federal laws should have prevented Cho from buying the guns he used in committing the crime, since he had been declared by a court to be a danger. This contradicts the earlier assumption that the law did not prohibit firearms from being sold into such hands.

By contrast with the New York Times, the Virginia Tech story falls off Page 1 of the L.A. Times this morning, and the stories inside are not nearly so significant, although Miguel Bustillo's story on the memorial service for Kevin P. Granata, one of the Virginia Tech professors who died trying to save their students after the shooting began, was beautiful. At the Granata service, the teacher's doctoral advisor at Ohio State, William Marras, said, "When I heard he had died trying to save the lives of students, I was not surprised. That's Kevin." And that's one of the glories of academic life, on a day of horror.

Meanwhile, we are beginning to be in the period, which seems to follow several days after every major earthquake or human disaster, where nonsensical rumors and speculations are beginning to mark the comment on the tragedy.

To cite examples, there was the Op Ed page piece in the L.A. Times yesterday by Rosa Brooks, criticizing the national anguish over the worst domestic shooting in U.S. history. "Count me out," she writes. "There''s something fraudulent about eagerness to latch onto the grief of others and embrace the idea that we, too, have been victimized. This trivializes the pain felt by those who have actually lost something."

What nonsense! It is certainly appropriate for the whole nation to mourn what has happened at Virginia Tech, in part because this was just one of a series of school shootings, and they are impacting lives all over the country. Brooks should not have written such a silly article, and when she did, Op Ed Page editor Nick Goldberg should not have agreed to run it. Goldberg seems mainly committed to inane commentary.

Then, Los Angeles attorney Shelly Sloan, who frequently forwards articles supporting the Bush Administration, forwarded one suggesting that "politically correct" Virginia Tech was somehow complicit in the massacre by the courses it allowed to be taught on literature by criminal minds, and so forth. This too is nonsense. Virginia Tech has thousands of students. Only one committed the massacre, and it is ridiculous to suggest something he heard in class brought him to do it.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whew! First you believed Imus should be unpluggged after 30 years on the air for three naughty words and now you say the LAT Op Ed boss shouldn't have run a piece by a woman who apparently doesn't need to join the national chorus of mourners over a nut case's massacre of people she does not know. Do you have something against the First Amendment? Or do you view yourself as a sort of freelance commissar of communications who recommends death to all who disagree with his sensibilities? Either way, the result is more pomposity and little illumination.

4/21/2007 3:20 PM  

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