Digital media

LA Times fires 115 journalists in ‘HR zoom webinar’ following union protests

user avatar Author: Editors Desk Source: The Guardian
January 23, 2024 at 21:30
Los Angeles Times Guild journalists rally in front of City Hall to protest against layoffs on 19 January 2024. Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images
Los Angeles Times Guild journalists rally in front of City Hall to protest against layoffs on 19 January 2024. Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

Young journalists of color ‘disproportionately affected’, with many Black, Asian American and Latino staffers laid off, Times guild says

The Los Angeles Times said it was laying off 115 journalists – or more than 20% of its newsroom – the day after members of Congress warned in a letter that sweeping media layoffs could undermine democracy in a high-stakes election year.

The 142-year-old newspaper, which has one of the largest print circulations in the US, has also lost its executive editor and managing editor in recent weeks. On Friday, the union representing the newsroom’s journalists held an unprecedented daylong walkout, urging Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong, the paper’s billionaire owner, to reconsider a planned staff reduction in response to the paper’s struggling finances.

Young journalists of color were “disproportionately affected” by the layoffs, the Los Angeles Times Guild said in a statement, with many Black, Asian American, and Latino staffers losing their jobs, despite the Soon-Shiong family’s public commitment in 2020 to diversity in the paper’s staff, which it said “has never truly reflected the region”.

Matt Pearce, the president of Media Guild of the West, which represents the Times’ unionized journalists, wrote on X that 94 union members had been notified on Wednesday that they were being laid off, about a quarter of the union’s membership, but a smaller number than the union had originally anticipated. “We believe our decision to go on strike saved scores of newsroom jobs today,” the Los Angeles Times Guild said in a statement on Wednesday, citing an email from the company’s president and COO.

The LA Times layoffs appear to have affected a wide swathe of the paper’s reporters, editors, and managers. These included journalists and editors working on more digitally-focused initiatives for younger audiences, such as the paper’s new “meme team” that had worked on TikTok content, prominent culture writers and those leading its national political coverage. Among the journalists laid off on Wednesday were the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning DC Bureau Chief, Kimbriell Kelly, and its deputy DC bureau chief, Nick Baumann, who received their layoff notices on Tuesday, the day of the New Hampshire presidential primary election.
Among the journalists laid off was one of the paper’s only Indigenous editors, and many of those working on the paper’s newly launched De Los section, designed by and for Latinos, who make up roughly half of Los Angeles county’s population, and who have been historically underrepresented among the paper’s staff.

The scale and the impact of the layoffs sent ripples throughout Los Angeles media circles: “My whole timeline is literally journalists of color getting let go,” one Rolling Stone journalist wrote on X.

LA Times journalists who lost their jobs, and those who retained them, continued to publicly criticize what they described as a chaotic and poorly-managed process.

“The LA Times laid us off in an HR zoom webinar with chat disabled, no q&a, no chance to ask questions,” one former news editor wrote on X, a characterization the union confirmed in its statement.

Voluntary buyouts, like the ones the Washington Post did last year, “could have helped prevent this, but that’s not the path the company chose”, the union said. Both a spokesperson for the paper’s management and the union said that a subsequent buyout process required by the paper’s union contract could help offset the cuts over the coming weeks.

A spokesperson for the Times did not have additional comment.

“The economic reality of our organization is extremely challenging. Despite our owner’s willingness to continue to invest, we need to take immediate steps to improve our cash position,” Chris Argentieri, the paper’s president and COO, wrote in an email to employees on Wednesday, announcing “a significant reduction” in staff.

The union’s buyout plan was “not financially feasible”, Argentieri wrote. “It is important to emphasize that these changes are not a reflection of the hard work and dedication shown by any of our colleagues.”

The journalists’ union blamed “years of middling strategy, the absence of a publisher, and no clear direction” for the layoffs, and wrote: “It is still unclear who is in charge of our newsroom more than a week after our executive editor resigned.”

While saying that they “remain grateful for the Soon-Shiong family’s investment in the newspaper”, the journalists also wrote: “It’s clear that those entrusted to steward his family’s largesse have failed him – not the rank-and-file staff members with no say in editorial priorities.”

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