Davan Maharaj is named editor-publisher of the L.A. Times in Tribune Publishing shake-up

Davan Maharaj, editor of the Los Angeles Times, has been named publisher as well, part of a sweeping reorganization by the newspaper's parent company, Tribune Publishing Co.

Editors at eight other Tribune papers will assume similar dual roles as editor-publishers, and many of the publishers to whom they once reported are leaving the company.

The shake-up, announced Wednesday, comes less than a month after Michael W. Ferro Jr., a Chicago tech entrepreneur, became the company's largest shareholder and chairman.

Maharaj, 53, has been Times editor since December 2011, a job in which he oversees the largest news operation in the western United States. As the 16th publisher in the newspaper's 134-year history, he will now also take command of its business operations.

In addition, Maharaj will oversee LA.com, a new “content vertical” intended to celebrate Los Angeles, capitalize on its global allure and draw readership to The Times.

Timothy E. Ryan, publisher of The Times for the last six months, will move into a new position as the parent company's president of publishing. In that role, he will oversee operations at newspapers other than The Times.

He and Maharaj will report to Tribune Publishing's new chief executive, Justin Dearborn.

By eliminating a layer of publishers, the company will reduce costs, an urgent priority for many legacy media properties. A Tribune news release offered an additional rationale for the change, saying editors “are in the unique position of understanding their local communities” as they make business decisions.

As part of the company's intensifying digital push, Malcolm CasSelle, a tech entrepreneur, will become president of new ventures, leading efforts to develop new digital products and revenue.

Several senior Tribune Publishing executives brought in by Jack Griffin, who was recently removed as CEO, are following him out the door. They include Denise Warren, a former New York Times executive who led Tribune Publishing's digital strategy.

In an email to L.A. Times employees Wednesday morning, Maharaj said he was honored to take on added responsibilities as publisher, a role he said “will not diminish in the slightest my commitment to the integrity and independence of our news product.”

“Quite the opposite,” he added. “I am keenly aware that our business success depends on readers' confidence in our journalism, in their faith that what we report is impartial, accurate and intended above all to serve their needs.”

Maharaj described Los Angeles as “a remarkable crossroads of culture and creativity that has long captured the world's imagination.” He said that Ferro and Dearborn had challenged The Times to position itself as “a global brand.”

“As publisher, I will lead our efforts — on both the editorial and business sides — to make The Times the primary destination for readers and advertisers everywhere who are interested in Los Angeles, California and the West,” Maharaj told the staff.

The LA.com Web channel is intended to advance that goal by drawing in new readers interested in trends in film, food, music and art emanating from Los Angeles. The site will feature articles, photos and video from The Times as well as other sources. Maharaj described it as “a place to savor and celebrate all things L.A.”

Maharaj, a native of Trinidad with a political science degree from the University of Tennessee and a master's degree from Yale Law School, began at The Times as a summer intern in 1989.

As a reporter, he worked in Orange County and Los Angeles and went abroad for The Times as a foreign correspondent, based in Nairobi, Kenya. He served as assistant foreign editor and later as business editor before becoming managing editor in May 2008 and The Times' 15th editor three years later.

During his tenure, The Times has redesigned its website, retrained and redeployed staff members and hired journalists with expertise in social media, video and interactive graphics — all with a view to expanding the audience for latimes.com and deepening readers' loyalty to the site.

Last year, The Times won its 42nd and 43rd Pulitzer Prizes, as well as other national journalism awards.

The editorial staff — cut from 1,200 to about 500 over more than a decade — was reduced by dozens more in a buyout in late 2015. The paper has filled some of those vacancies this year, with an emphasis on hiring more women and minorities.

Among the Tribune editors who will take on publisher's responsibilities is Jeff Light of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Along with The Times and the San Diego paper, editors will become publishers at seven other Tribune Publishing properties: the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant, the Orlando Sentinel, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., and the Daily Press in Virginia.

Alan D. Mutter, a media analyst who teaches media economics at UC Berkeley, said the merging of editor and publisher roles seemed to reflect Ferro's experience in the tech world, where the people who know most about a product take responsibility for marketing it.

Still, he said, most newspaper editors are not trained in sales, marketing and other aspects of business. “He's asking them to get up to speed on all this stuff as fast as possible, at a time when the business continues to deteriorate,” Mutter said.

Although there is “ample precedent” for combining the editor and publisher roles, the arrangement represents “an affront to the traditions” of maintaining a rigid separation, or “firewall,” between editorial and business decisions, Mutter said. He portrayed it, however, as a question of survival.

“The wall's a lot more Swiss-cheesy today, now that the business is in extremis,” he said. “As far as I'm concerned, this is an emergency situation, and that means all hands on deck. And that means editors worrying about money.”

He added: “Those of us who care about journalism have to worry not just about the firewall, but about the walls that are holding up the temple of journalism, because they're extremely rickety.”

Tribune Publishing has been a stand-alone company since 2014, when it was spun off from parent Tribune Co., which retained its broadcast properties and was renamed Tribune Media.

In September, under then-CEO Griffin, Tribune Publishing ousted Los Angeles Times publisher Austin Beutner amid disagreements about the paper's direction. Succeeding Beutner was Ryan, who had run the company's Baltimore Sun Media Group.

The company struggled during Griffin's tenure, its stock price dropping sharply. In early February, Ferro — a Chicago tech entrepreneur, philanthropist and lead investor in the company that owns the Chicago Sun-Times — made a $44.4-million investment in Tribune Publishing through his firm Merrick Media.

That gave him a 16.6% stake in the company and made him the largest shareholder, supplanting Los Angeles investment firm Oaktree Capital Management.

One of Ferro's first moves was to replace Griffin with Dearborn, who had worked closely with Ferro in previous business ventures.

To avoid a perceived conflict of interest, Ferro will donate his stake in the Sun-Times, a longtime rival of the Chicago Tribune, to a charitable trust, the company said Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Tribune Publishing released its fourth-quarter earnings for 2015, showing a loss of $77,000 — less than 1 cent on a per-share basis — and a $2.8-million loss for the year.

After accounting for one-time costs, including last fall's buyouts, adjusted earnings for 2015 were $49.7 million, down 26% from the comparable figure for 2014.

The company's stock has declined 58% since Tribune Publishing was spun off. On Wednesday, the share price rose 8% to close at $9.19.


Times staff writer James Rufus Koren contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


6:39 p.m.: Updates with additional details and background

Originally posted at 5:05 a.m.