Thursday, March 06, 2008

Many Distinguished Staffers Take LAT Buyout

What can you say about a publisher, David Hiller, an editor, Russ Stanton, and an obscene owner, Sam Zell, who would let a Henry Weinstein take a buyout at the L.A. Times?

Weinstein is only one of the many distinguished reporters, editors, researchers, pollsters, even a tour guide, to put in for a buyout after being threatened by the new editor, Russ Stanton, who inaugurated his reign by telling the staff that unless they took the buyout now, the terms of future buyouts would carry far less desirable severance packages.

So Stanton has made a truly disgraceful start. That's why he got the job. It is all part of the eight-year-old Tribune Co. conspiracy to destroy the Los Angeles Times as a great newspaper. He wasn't in the job five minutes, before he was hinting that the foreign and national bureaus would be cut severely. Now, with the buyout, the long vaunted Los Angeles Times Poll is history, even public tours of the building are apparently out, and the latest crop of able journalists is out the door.

It would be nice to think that the Squalids -- Zell, Hiller and Stanton -- would one day be punished for their grievous sins of the past few weeks. But, in fact, there is every likelihood that after they have done their dirty work, they will walk away with huge bonuses. Just as the corporate hacks who are taking down other California newspapers -- the San Jose Mercury News, the Daily News in the San Fernando Valley, the Orange County Register, the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the South Bay Daily Breeze.

Zell, in particular, put comparatively little of his fortune up to buy the Tribune under a plan which supposedly vested most of the ownership in the employees. But if this is really so, why is the staff being cut and, already, more layoffs threatened? What we ought to have here is a criminal investigation to determine whether the Zell acquisition is legal. Yes, he fired the inept CEO, Dennis FitzSimons, but he gave FitzSimons millions in severance. This scoundrel walked out of Tribune Tower after years of failure a wealthy man.

I would be derelict in this blog were I not to pay tribute to some of the great people who are taking the buyout. They ran the course, they served the paper with diligence and distinction. Now, they are cast aside, the latest of the great names lost to the newspaper in the series of buyouts over the years. Bella Stumbo, John Balzar, Bill Boyarsky, Lee Hotz, Mark Arax, Doug Frantz, John Carroll, they are among many who left. Each departure diminished the paper.

I can't name them all. Please excuse me for omissions. But these names stood out when I read the latest list provided by Kevin Roderick on LA Observed yesterday:

HENRY WEINSTEIN -- A distinguished legal affairs writer for many years, his stories on the death penalty issue alone were a public service. But this was just a small part of Weinstein's work. Extremely prolific, his retirement is a tremendous loss to the paper. We should all salute him. Just his outspoken opposition to Mark Willes and some of the other jackasses who besmirched the paper deserves our greatest respect.

GREG KRIKORIAN -- His beat was frequently terrorism and would-be terrorists or the people sometimes falsely accused of terrorism. He was just approaching the peak of his career. Many other enterprises will be delighted to have him.

CECILIA RASMUSSEN -- Her columns on Los Angeles history were a contribution to the community. She will certainly be missed.

SONIA NAZARIO -- A Pulitzer Prize winner for her book about a youth who immigrated to the U.S., she has been one of the most acutely sensitive observers of the underside of California life. She will now be writing books full time. But anyone who would encourage her to leave can truly be called an enemy of the readers of the Los Angeles Times and the people of California.

JOEL SAPPELL -- Did some good, if uneven, work in a number of capacities. His direction of some coverage, during the energy crisis for example, fell short, but his instinct about what to cover often was a sure one. On balance, he is a loss.

ROBERT WELKOS -- His investigative pieces, such as the one on the dread Scientology cult, were a public service. He will certainly be missed.

DAVID WILLMAN -- Another Pultizer Prize winner, when investigations were central concerns of Times editors, he was most recently with the Washington bureau. His work on dangerous drugs and the regulatory failures that allowed them to destroy lives was outstanding. His future can only be bright.

TOM FURLONG, JOHN SPANO, JEFF RABIN -- All diligent, competent reporters who properly took pride in their work and were the stuff out of which a great newspaper is made.

JOHN STEWART -- Long on the national desk, he was an editor with good judgment, and a pleasant, engaging personality.

CONNIE KANG -- Her coverage of the Korean community, and wider Asian concerns, was vital to the newspaper, and her departure will leave one of many disgraceful holes in Times ethnic coverage. Always pleasant, always conscientious, she was one of many reporters who made the City Room a better place. (While Hiller prostrates himself before Hollywood glitz in worthless sections, he lets the Connie Kangs go. May he roast in hell).

MYRON LEVIN -- His coverage of the smoking lobby was a public service. Part of the formerly great investigative tradition at the Times.

GINA PICCOLO -- An able critic.

SUSAN PINKUS -- Under terrible conditions, she struggled to keep the Los Angeles Times Poll going, as apparently its last director.

NONA YATES -- An able and friendly researcher for many years after years in the Times Library.

I'm sorry not to mention others.

What can we say about them, other than that they will haunt the dreams of Zell, Hiller and Stanton as they contemplate in the middle of the night all the harm they did in their careers.



Anonymous another old fool said...

Sam Zell is listed as the 164th richest person in the world on the new Forbes List of Billionaires.

"Net Worth: $6.0 billion

Fortune: self made

Bearded baron of Chicago real estate now writing headlines. Engineered $8.2 billion leveraged buyout of newspaper giant Tribune Co. last March; beat out billionaires Eli Broad, Ron Burkle, David Geffen. Sold real estate investment trust Equity Office Properties to Stephen Schwarzman's Blackstone Group for $39 billion cash last February. Parents fled Poland for America weeks before Nazi invasion. With Robert Lurie (d. 1990), built business buying, selling cheap real estate. Still owns large stakes in Equity Residential (nyse: EQR - news - people ) and Equity Lifestyle REITs. Other investments: low-income housing projects in Egypt, shopping malls in Brazil, office parks in China."

I know why he bought the Times: to turn the Times building into a low-income housing project. He bought the Tribune Co. to flip it like a house on the real estate market.

You're just jealous of him.

3/08/2008 9:09 AM  
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