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American Journalism Review
L.A. Times Exiles Vets, Calls Up Rookies  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   October 1991

L.A. Times Exiles Vets, Calls Up Rookies   

By Charles Rappleye

In an apparent youth movement that has left the paper's metropolitan staff angry and demoralized, senior management at the Los Angeles Times has ordered the unprecedented transfer of half a dozen veteran reporters and editors from the downtown offices to far-flung suburban bureaus. The demoted staff writers, with an average age of over 50, have been replaced on the metro staff by a crew of young writers imported from some of the same zone-edition bureaus.

Most of the transfers came without notice or explanation, violating the sense of prestige and mutual respect that has long accompanied a staff position at the Times . "That's the saddest thing about this the disillusionment," Times staff writer Bob Baker, himself not among those transferred, has said. "It really hurts."

Management responded to initial newsroom dismay by holding a series of extraordinary staff meetings in late July and early August, but staff resentment has proved persistent. Several of the transferred writers consulted with a prominent civil rights attorney and are considering an age-discrimination lawsuit, and veteran staff writer Kenneth Reich distributed an open letter through the paper's electronic mail lamenting "a whiff of Kafka" in the strained relations with management.

In September, the Los Angeles Newspaper Guild circulated sign-up cards and held an initial informational meeting. If frustration results in widespread union sympathies, the nation's largest nonunion paper could face the first serious attempt in decades to organize its thousand-odd editorial employees. "It's the first time there's been a real significant interest there," observes Guild Administrative Officer Jim Smith.

Times managers cite budget pressures in making the personnel changes; like the rest of the industry, the recession has put a squeeze on profit margins at the Times Mirror Co. But skeptical staffers respond that much of the loss in profits can be attributed to the company's East Coast newspaper properties, The Hartford Courant , Baltimore Sun , Newsday and New York Newsday . Moreover, they note that the metro transfers have yielded no net savings. "They're using the budget problems as an excuse," one veteran reporter says flatly.

More broadly, longtime employees see a shift in management tone and attitude that bodes the end of the Chandler era, when family ownership and direct control fostered a relaxed, if patriarchal, work environment. Under the tutelage of Otis Chandler, the youthful scion who served as publisher from 1960 to 1980, salaries reached peak levels and newsroom conflicts were frequently appealed to the executive suites. The Times became known as a writer's paper where reporters were given the space and encouragement to write the long, enterprising stories that became its hallmark.

Veteran staffers have come to mark the end of that era with the arrival in 1989 of Editor Shelby Coffey III, formerly of The Washington Post , and Publisher David Laventhol, formerly of Newsday . Both bring an emphasis on soft features, bright format and younger readers, each having served a stint with the Post "Style" section. And both executives maintain a more distant, more "corporate" style of management than Otis Chandler or his immediate successor as publisher, Tom Johnson.

The sense of transition was underscored by Senior Editor Noel Greenwood, the man who executed the summer staff transfers, during his opening speech at a tense August staff meeting. "Otis is out surfing," Greenwood declared, "and he's not coming back."



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