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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Financial Crisis Forces Los Angeles Times to Cut Over 20% of Newsroom Staff

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The Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, facing what senior leadership described this week as a “financial crisis,” commenced a round of painful layoffs across the newsroom, a workforce reduction that is set to be one of the most severe in the newspaper’s 142-year history.

The cuts will impact at least 115 journalists, a person familiar with the matter told CNN, or slightly more than 20% of the newsroom. Some 94 of those cuts will be among unionized employees, union chief Matt Pearce said, meaning a quarter of the union will be laid off.

Pearce described the total number of employees being laid off as a “devastating” figure, but said it was “nonetheless far lower than the total number” expected last week.

Among those laid off Tuesday was Kimbriell Kelly, the newspaper’s Washington bureau chief, along with significant cuts to its business and sports desks.

“The LA Times Washington bureau was decimated,” Sarah Wire, a Washington-based reporter for the Times wrote on X.

“They haven’t been filling jobs for two years now and that reduced number was cut even more today. There are five reporters left covering DC.”

Brian Merchant, a Times tech columnist who said he had also been notified that he was being laid off, described the cuts as “a bloodbath.”

“My amazing editor… and the entire business desk as we know it, is gone too,” Merchant wrote.

A spokesperson for The Times, which is owned by biotech billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, did not immediately comment.

But Soon-Shiong spoke to Meg James, a media reporter at the Times, telling her that the cuts were necessary as the newspaper continues to lose $30 to $40 million each year.

“Today’s decision is painful for all, but it is imperative that we act urgently and take steps to build a sustainable and thriving paper for the next generation,” Soon-Shiong told James. “We are committed to doing so.”

In the interview, Soon-Shiong also expressed disappointment with the employees union and said a one-day walkout it staged last week “did not help” the situation.

The Los Angeles Times Guild, which represents editorial staffers, countered that its decision to go on strike “saved scores of newsroom jobs,” and pushed back on the assertions from the Times owner.

“This staffing cut is the fruit of years of middling strategy, the absence of a publisher, and no clear direction,” the union said in a statement. “But it’s clear that those entrusted to steward [the Soon-Shiong] family’s largesse have failed him — not the rank-and-file staff members with no say in editorial priorities.”

The newspaper, which houses the largest newsroom in the western US, has plunged into disarray in recent weeks as it faces a major financial shortfall, losing tens of millions of dollars a year. Its top editor, Kevin Merida, suddenly announced his departure. And two of the four members of an interim leadership team announced by Soon-Shiong have also abruptly exited in recent days.

Soon-Shiong told James on Tuesday, however, that he had lost the confidence of Merida and some high-ranking editors he had appointed. The owner also pushed back against the characterization that the newspaper is in trouble, telling James, “We are not in turmoil. We have a real plan.”

Staffers who spoke to CNN this week, however, described a different situation at the newspaper.

“I cannot overstate the level of chaos,” one staffer, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, told CNN.

The planned layoffs caught the eye of 10 Democratic members of Congress who represent California. The group on Monday wrote Soon-Shiong, expressing alarm over the planned layoffs, noting that during elections, “the role of news outlets in providing accurate and unbiased information becomes even more vital.”

“Our community relies on the newspaper to stay informed about local and national events, and a reduction in reporters could have a detrimental impact on the quality of reporting,” the congressional leaders wrote. “Preserving democracy is contingent upon a free and robust press, and the LA Times has been instrumental in upholding this democratic principle.”

“We urge you to consider alternative solutions that would allow the LA Times to navigate its financial challenges without compromising the integrity and strength of its newsroom,” they added.

In response, Soon-Shiong said he had invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the paper and suggested lawmakers should take action of their own to aid revenue-starved news organizations.

“I’d like to put the question to them: What can they do to help preserve a free and robust press, one that is instrumental in upholding our democracy?” he wrote. “All we are asking for is the opportunity for our newspaper and hardworking journalists to be fairly compensated, and for the L.A. Times to have a fair chance to become a self-sustaining institution.”

The Times is far from the only news organization struggling to keep its head above water amid a poor advertising climate, breakneck changes in consumer behavior, and technological advances that pose existential threats to the craft of journalism.

Most major newsrooms have been forced to undergo layoffs over the last year. In 2023, nearly 2,700 jobs were slashed in the journalism industry, the highest total since 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic upended the industry.

SourceCNN.com
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