The Times’ changes pick up speed as many depart

Times Staff Writer

The staff-wide e-mails have arrived in bunches over the last few days at the Los Angeles Times.

From Glenn Bunting, the dogged investigative reporter who exposed illegal foreign fundraising by President Clinton’s reelection campaign, “Farewell. It’s been a terrific adventure.” From Bob Sipchen, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and “School Me” columnist: “It’s been splendid my brothers and sisters.” And from Solomon Moore, who went to Iraq and helped uncover the ties between official security forces and sectarian death squads: “Peace out.”

The great majority of the 60 departing Times journalists made their exits this week from the downtown L.A. headquarters once known as Times Mirror Square. They wrote and edited their final stories. They packed decades’ worth of files into cardboard boxes in an exodus that has become painfully routine in the newspaper business of late.


The San Francisco Chronicle announced last week that it would reduce its news staff by a quarter. Reports circulated Friday that the once-robust San Jose Mercury News would pare its staff again. At The Times, the latest departures will leave the paper’s news staff at roughly 850 people, about three-quarters of its peak.

“We all are caught in the greatest upheaval our industry and the institution of journalism has ever faced,” Chronicle Managing Editor Robert Rosenthal told the newsroom this week as he tendered his own resignation.

The journalists remaining at The Times found some consolation in the knowledge that the news staff will continue to be the second-largest in America (behind the New York Times), with bureaus around the nation and in 18 foreign countries.

“You can look at this as a bad time, because there is no doubt that newspapers are going through wrenching changes,” Times Editor James E. O’Shea said in an interview. “But ... there are still a lot of great people here and a lot of great work that can be done.”

Publisher David D. Hiller ordered the reductions in an effort to prop up The Times’ profit at a time when many advertisers are leaving newspapers to chase consumers onto the Internet. The vast majority of the cuts were achieved through voluntary separations and will save a little more than $5 million a year from the more-than-$100-million newsroom budget.

The Times and other newspapers were created to fasten their gaze on the outside world, not on themselves. But the paper’s operations became a national issue last year, when the publisher and editor left in a protest over staff cuts.


The current buyouts have provoked concern outside the paper. Stuart Drown, executive director of the Little Hoover Commission, a state government watchdog, was saddened to see the departure of Robert Salladay, who created the Political Muscle blog on

“He very quickly became an essential read,” Drown said.

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said that Frank Clifford, an editor leaving the California section, had made sure that The Times’ environmental coverage “was head and shoulders above any of the competition.”

Jenifer Warren, leaving the paper’s Sacramento bureau, drew praise for keeping lawmakers and other officials on their toes about failures in the state’s corrections system.

“Her knowledge allowed her to draw back the curtain on the often-secret world of prisons,” said Steven Fama, an attorney for the nonprofit Prison Law Office.

Among those walking out the door are several acclaimed investigative reporters, the founder of The Times’ late Outdoor section, a top features editor who was the first woman city editor in the paper’s history and a popular columnist who first set foot in the city room about the time of the Watergate break-in. Six Pulitzer Prize recipients were among the group.

Nancy Cleeland and Evelyn Iritani formed half of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team that described how Wal-Mart Stores Inc. had altered the face of world commerce.


Ralph Frammolino, noted by one editor for his “ability to induce a confessional state of mind in other people,” revealed how children of the rich and famous got backdoor admissions into UCLA.

Roy Rivenburg proved the power of humor throughout a 25-year career in which he “interviewed psychic dogs, played golf with Deepak Chopra and explored such topics as Count Chocula’s love life.”

Said veteran Times feature writer Robin Abcarian, who will remain at the paper: “It’s a sad time because all of us chose this business and stuck with it because it’s the most exciting and interesting thing we could think of doing.”

The departures weren’t all amicable. A couple of journalists used Internet communiques to protest their treatment or the newspaper’s policies. A handful were laid off.

The loudest public outcry surrounded the decision to lay off Calendar section columnist Al Martinez after 35 years at The Times. “I always thought that I would be the one to decide when it was time to walk away,” Martinez told his colleagues by e-mail, “when my prose faltered and my thinking blurred.... I think I deserved a better way of ending such a long and honorable career.”

The news provoked at least 300 e-mails, phone calls and letters of protest. By week’s end, O’Shea had met with the 77-year-old Martinez to try to reach an accommodation to bring the column back, at least part-time.


The Times plans to hire new employees to backfill operations that saw a greater-than-expected exodus.

Many of the departed are charting new paths. Frammolino is finishing a book following up his award-winning reporting (with writing partner Jason Felch) on how the J. Paul Getty Museum received looted antiquities. Martinez has a stage play in the works -- a conversation between four generations of military veterans “arguing over whose war was best.”

As the accumulation of farewells verged on the mawkish, reporter Rone Tempest, who has written about wars in the Middle East and the transformation of China, offered relief in the form of his own e-mailed sign-off Friday.

“4 Career Life Lessons from a Retiring Hack,” it read.

“1) Never write a company-wide memo

“2) In any foreign language the most important phrase is ‘My friend will pay’ as in French ‘mon ami va payer’ or Chinese ‘Wo de pengyou yao mai le’

“3) Given a choice, Bordeaux red

“4) Never get killed for an inside story.”