Saturday, May 31, 2008

New Layoffs Rumored Impending At L.A. Times

In their invitation to the vainglorious jackass who is the Tribune Co. toady publisher at the L.A. Times, David Hiller, to sing the National Anthem on June 5 at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers are showing us why they have been something of a disappointment this year. If they honor a jerk like Hiller, no wonder they imported a manager from New York City who is past his prime.

Kevin Roderick asks in LA Observed today, "Does Hiller sing like Nero fiddled?" In light of spreading rumors that Hiller is about to launch a new round of layoffs targeting editors and perhaps veteran reporters, he will be singing at Dodger Stadium the way Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

However, Nero may have been a more farsighted administrator than Hiller or his bosses, Randy Michaels and Sam Zell. The Roman Empire outlasted Nero. It is not so clear that the L.A. Times will outlast Hiller, Michaels and Zell.

Roderick reports that Russ Stanton, the Times' editor and Hiller appointee who has the intellect of a flea, invited some, but not all, of the younger reporters at the Times in and told them that a couple of rough months loom at the Times, but that they need not worry. The implication was that others on the paper's staff need worry. These are especially the survivors who have struggled up to now against all the oddballs at Tribune Co. to keep the newspaper decent.

Stanton's predecessors, the fired editors, Dean Baquet and James O'Shea, and the editor who grew discouraged and quit, John Carroll, all resisted cutbacks at the paper ordered by the men of little business vision in Chicago. Stanton, it is becoming clear, would, if ordered to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, ask only, "When?"

Other papers, including the New York Times and Washington Post, have recently had big buyouts and/or layoffs. But the L.A. Times has gone down, down, down in circulation, advertising revenue and staff numbers faster than just about any paper in the country.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch's new acquisition, the Wall Street Journal, continues to build circulation and staff. Murdoch is no Nero, or Hiller.

If indeed new layoffs are in the offing at the L.A. Times, the termination packages are not apt to be generous ones. Mark Willes and Dennis FitzSimons walked off with "golden parachutes" worth many millions of dollars, and those taking the last buyout got as much as a year's pay in farewell, but Stanton and Hiller warned at the time of that buyout, just a few months ago, that those who didn't take it couldn't expect that the packages the next time would be as good.

When Hiller leaves, however or, more likely is ousted, I can assure you that he will get a generous golden parachute, worth a lot more than singing the National Anthem at Dodger Stadium. Those getting such parachutes need never eat the horrible Chicago food again.

The L.A. Times, for the average staffer, isn't worth working for these days, and as Stanton and Hiller proceed with changing the paper, it won't be worth reading either. This is a downward spiral without end, unless there would be, God be praised, a new owner with California-sized ambitions. Then Hiller, Stanton, Michaels and Zell could be shoveled under without the least regret.

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Whatever happened to Hiller and Stanton's promises to improve the Times web site? Hours after the decision by the Rules committee of the Democratic National Committee Saturday to give Florida and Michigan only half-votes at the Democratic National Convention, the L.A. Times web site still was posting a story written six hours before the decision saying there would be a decision. At the same time, the New York Times web site had a full story on the decision.

We know Hiller and Stanton don't work on Saturdays. But what about the people at the web site? A shocking dereliction of duty on the biggest story of the day.

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