Los Angeles Times to cut 74 newsroom positions amid advertising declines
The Los Angeles Times is cutting its newsroom staff, becoming the latest news organization to contract amid economic pressures brought on by advertising and print readership declines.
The Times is eliminating 74 positions in the newsroom, representing about 13% of the total.
Full-time and temporary workers will be let go, including a handful of managers. Reporting positions are expected to be largely spared but the production staff will be scaled back. Nearly a third of the cuts come from news and copy editor ranks. Some photographers, audience engagement editors and audio producers will also be affected.
Times Executive Editor Kevin Merida announced the layoffs Wednesday in a note to the newsroom, saying the decision was “made more urgent by the economic climate and the unique challenges of our industry.”
“Decisions that result in talented staffers losing their jobs are agonizing,” Merida wrote. “We will be saying goodbye to some tremendous colleagues.”
L.A. Times Guild leader Reed Johnson called the layoffs announcement “outrageous and reckless,” noting that 57 LAT Guild members, including several union leaders, were being let go.
He cited a provision in the collective bargaining agreement that he said requires the paper to offer buyouts to reduce the number of any layoffs.
“We were blindsided by this news,” Johnson said. “Management did not consult us in advance about other options for cutting costs and saving money, short of layoffs. We have been bargaining a new contract since September, and this was never hinted at during bargaining.
“The company must discuss alternatives to their unnecessary and short-sighted decision.”
Times spokeswoman Hillary Manning disputed the union’s characterization, saying the labor agreement gives management the discretion to proceed with layoff notices before offering voluntary buyouts.
Affected Guild members, Manning said, were being given the required 30-day notice, which the contract called for “in the event the Times determines it is necessary to make dismissals to reduce the force,” according to the contract.
The restructuring represents the first significant belt tightening since Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and his wife, Michele, acquired the paper five years ago from Tribune Publishing, which no longer exists as a stand-alone company. Since then, The Times’ newsroom has been largely protected from massive layoffs that have hobbled many other news outlets.
When the Soon-Shiong family purchased the paper, The Times was shedding print subscribers and had just 125,000 digital subscribers. The family invested millions of dollars to help the organization recover from more than a decade of devastating cost-cutting, management missteps and a flight of journalistic talent under Tribune.
Under Soon-Shiong, the newsroom added more than 150 journalists, rebuilt its business operations and launched an entertainment studio. The paper was making strong gains in revenue by early 2020. But the COVID-19 health crisis derailed the paper’s path to profitability as pandemic-related closures obliterated the paper’s advertising.
Since then, The Times has struggled to recover financially amid an industrywide slowdown in advertising sales and subscriptions.
Executives declined to comment on the paper’s financial losses.
BuzzFeed, once a rising star in digital media, has undergone major cuts in recent years as digital-native brands struggle to create sustainable business models.
“The restructuring stems from the same persistent economic headwinds facing news media across the country,” Merida wrote. “Collectively, we have done a vast amount of work as a company to meet the budget and revenue challenges head on. But that work will need acceleration and we will need more radical transformation in the newsroom for us to become a self-sustaining enterprise. Our imperative is to become a modern media company — more nimble, more experimental, bolder with our ambition and creativity than we are today.”
The Times has faced ongoing advertising declines, a problem that plagues most of the media. In addition, news publishers have suffered as social media giants, including Facebook and Twitter, have scaled back the promotion of news articles.
In recent months, growth has stalled in a once-promising area: digital subscriptions. The Times has nearly 550,000 digital subscribers, including through direct sales and third-party partnerships, such as Apple News+.
The layoff announcement comes just weeks after The Times celebrated two Pulitzer Prizes. The staff was honored for its coverage last fall of the Los Angeles City Hall scandal after a leaked audio recording revealed casual racist banter by three then-council members. The Times also won for feature photography.
“The Los Angeles Times is one of the greatest journalistic institutions in the country, and, frankly, in the world,” Merida wrote. “It sits without peer west of the Mississippi River. It is filled with phenomenal journalists — the prodigiously accomplished, the promising and the rising. And we are on the brink, I’m convinced, of doing something extraordinary — transforming a 141-year-old newspaper into a truly next-generation digital powerhouse that serves the people of this city, and the world, in unparalleled ways.”
Newsroom leaders were expected to notify the affected employees Wednesday. Affected managers who are not part of The Times’ union will depart immediately. Guild-covered journalists will stay on for as long as 30 days, as outlined in the guild agreement, and receive 60 days’ worth of compensation, Manning said.
Guild leaders said that after receiving word of the layoffs, they submitted the required 90-day notice to terminate the labor agreement that expired in November. Both sides had been following terms of the contract negotiated in 2019.
In the last year, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, Vice Media and Insider have laid off journalists. Buzzfeed News and MTV News were shut down. Tech giants, including Amazon and Google, and entertainment leaders, including Walt Disney Co., Paramount Global and Warner Bros. Discovery, have eliminated thousands of positions in the last year.
“Our focus remains on our long-term plans to transform the Los Angeles Times into a self-sustaining institution that will serve the community for generations to come,” Manning said in a statement. “We take the trust that the public places in us seriously and will continue working hard, every day, to bring important issues to light, tell the great stories of our time and help our readers navigate their lives.”
After the cuts, about 500 newsroom employees will remain, Manning said.
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