LA Times Going Under?
A sign of the Times.
CNN Business (“The Los Angeles Times plunges into ‘chaos’ as brutal layoffs loom and senior editors call it quits“):
The Los Angeles Times is in disarray.
The Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong-owned newspaper, which houses the largest newsroom in the western U.S., has been thrown into a state of mayhem as severe layoffs loom and senior editorial leaders abruptly call it quits.
“I cannot overstate the level of chaos,” one staffer, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, candidly told me on Monday.
To say that it has been a rocky start to the new year for the venerable news outlet would be an understatement. Earlier this month, Kevin Merida suddenly announced that he was departing his post as executive editor after less than three years on the job. Then, news of forthcoming mass layoffs ensued, prompting the employee’s union to stage a historic one-day walk out on Friday. The LAT’s Meg James reported last week that management could slash upwards of 20% of the newsroom — or roughly 100 positions — with the looming layoffs, though a person familiar with the matter warned to me on Monday that it could ultimately end up being “much worse” than that.
Meanwhile, amid the backdrop of bedlam, the team of four managing editors — Julia Turner, Sara Yasin, Scott Kraft, and Shani Hilton — tapped to oversee operations in the wake of Merida’s departure has also been rocked by departures. Two of the four members, BuzzFeed News alums Hilton and Yasin, have in recent days exited the newspaper, contributing even further to the turmoil that has enveloped the newsroom.
“We have a billionaire who doesn’t understand media and thinks he can cut his way to success,” another staffer told me, likening the drama playing out in the editorial leadership to the reality television show “Survivor.”
Seeking to provide the newsroom with some sense of stability, Turner emailed staffers on Monday announcing that she would oversee daily editorial operations with Kraft and absorb all of Hilton’s direct reports. Notably, Turner was not shy about the grim reality confronting the newspaper, writing to employees, “Scott and I are now responsible for all editorial operations, and we’re advocating for editorial interests in conversations with the company about the financial crisis we face.”
Beyond the drastic cuts hanging over the newsroom, it’s unclear what Soon-Shiong is doing behind the scenes to stable his ship. The biotech billionaire purchased The LAT in 2018, pouring nearly $1 billion into the storied paper and vowing to steer it into the future after enduring years of tumult under Tribune Publishing. But in the words of the newspaper’s own leadership team, years later under his stewardship it is in a dire state of “financial crisis.”
Nieman Labs (“The LA Times lays off 115 people, with the De Los and Washington, D.C. teams especially hard-hit“) adds:
The Los Angeles Times laid off 23% of its newsroom on Tuesday — one of the largest cuts in the paper’s 142-year history, according to the paper’s own reporting. Around 385 newsroom positions remain.
“We are not in turmoil. We have a real plan,” the paper’s owner, billionaire businessman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, told L.A. Times reporter Meg James. (The story did not elaborate on the plan.) The LA Times had laid off 74 people in June 2023.
The layoffs followed reports that the Times lost “$30 million to $40 million” last year.
For most of the time I’ve been writing on this blog—which will be old enough to drink a week from today—newspapers and magazines have been in trouble. The old business model of cheap subscriptions supported by advertising was disrupted by Craig’s List and others and very few publications have succeeded in replacing that with a subscription-only model.
Those few who have figured it out are almost exclusively niche publishers offering unique content that make people money; i.e., mostly trade publications. The LAT is a great general interest paper but likely didn’t offer enough value for the average Los Angelino—much less someone not living in the city—to justify a subscription price high enough to sustain publication.
I have no opinion on Soon-Shiong—indeed, I’m not sure I had heard of him before this morning—but the billionaire investor is one model that would seem sustainable. After all, someone with that kind of money could presumably afford to lose $30- to $40-million a year to support the hobby and, indeed, should be able to write it off on his taxes. Buying a failing newspaper and expecting it to be profitable is just not logical.