The Los Angeles Times plunges into ‘chaos’ as brutal layoffs loom and senior editors call it quits

The Los Angeles Times plunges into ‘chaos’ as brutal layoffs loom and senior editors call it quits

New York  – The Los Angeles Times is in disarray.

The Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong-owned newspaper, which houses the largest newsroom in the western U.S., has been thrown into a state of mayhem as severe layoffs loom and senior editorial leaders abruptly call it quits.

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

To say that it has been a rocky start to the new year for the venerable news outlet would be an understatement. Earlier this month, Kevin Merida suddenly announced that he was departing his post as executive editor after less than three years on the job. Then, news of forthcoming mass layoffs ensued, prompting the employee’s union to stage a historic one-day walk out on Friday. The LAT’s Meg James reported last week that management could slash upwards of 20% of the newsroom — or roughly 100 positions — with the looming layoffs, though a person familiar with the matter warned to me on Monday that it could ultimately end up being “much worse” than that.

Meanwhile, amid the backdrop of bedlam, the team of four managing editors — Julia Turner, Sara Yasin, Scott Kraft, and Shani Hilton — tapped to oversee operations in the wake of Merida’s departure has also been rocked by departures. Two of the four members, BuzzFeed News alums Hilton and Yasin, have in recent days exited the newspaper, contributing even further to the turmoil that has enveloped the newsroom.

“We have a billionaire who doesn’t understand media and thinks he can cut his way to success,” another staffer told me, likening the drama playing out in the editorial leadership to the reality television show “Survivor.”

Seeking to provide the newsroom with some sense of stability, Turner emailed staffers on Monday announcing that she would oversee daily editorial operations with Kraft and absorb all of Hilton’s direct reports. Notably, Turner was not shy about the grim reality confronting the newspaper, writing to employees, “Scott and I are now responsible for all editorial operations, and we’re advocating for editorial interests in conversations with the company about the financial crisis we face.”

Beyond the drastic cuts hanging over the newsroom, it’s unclear what Soon-Shiong is doing behind the scenes to stable his ship. The biotech billionaire purchased The LAT in 2018, pouring nearly $1 billion into the storied paper and vowing to steer it into the future after enduring years of tumult under Tribune Publishing. But in the words of the newspaper’s own leadership team, years later under his stewardship it is in a dire state of “financial crisis.”

The newsroom’s rank-and-file have not heard from Soon-Shiong since he announced Merida’s exit two weeks ago. At the time, he said his commitment to the newspaper had “not wavered.” But he did foreshadow a period of disruption, telling staffers, “Given the persistent challenges we face, it is now imperative that we all work together to build a sustainable business that allows for growth and innovation of the LA Times and LA Times Studios in order to achieve our vision.”

The Times is certainly not alone in its struggles. Most news media companies are fighting to stand on their feet as they fight unprecedented headwinds. Layoffs have become the de facto norm in an industry continually pummeled by seismic change. In 2023, news outlets slashed nearly 2,700 jobs — the highest number of cuts to torment the industry since the Covid-19 pandemic.

The cuts have come at a horrendous time. As antidemocratic candidates look to seize power in election contests from coast to coast, newsrooms are shrinking and simply trying to stay afloat. That lack of accountability means dishonest figures seeking higher office, and those in positions of power, could avoid crucial scrutiny, leaving the electorate less informed about the vital decisions it will have to make in November at the ballot box.

That said, while painful cuts have become all too frequent throughout the industry, it’s still rare to watch in real-time as a news organization of The LAT’s stature see its leadership team come apart at the seams so visibly — particularly as staffers brace for even more agony.

On Monday, 10 Democratic members of Congress representing California 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.”

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“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.”

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.”

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