The Los Angeles Times informed its newsroom Wednesday that it would lay off about 13% of the paper's journalists, the latest in a string of blows to major American news outlets.
It's the first major round of job cuts since the paper was acquired in 2018 by Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire entrepreneur and investor based in Southern California. At the time, he told NPR that he wanted to protect the L.A. Times from a series of cutbacks that had afflicted the paper under previous owners based in Chicago.
During the pandemic, there was a far smaller round of layoffs. The paper and labor union negotiated a work-sharing agreement and furloughs in lieu of layoffs.
In making the announcement to officials of the newsroom union, executives cited a "difficult economic operating environment." L.A. Times Executive Editor Kevin Merida wrote in a memo to colleagues that making the decisions to lay off colleagues was "agonizing."
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"We have done a vast amount of work as a company to meet the budget and revenue challenges head on," Merida wrote. "That work will need acceleration and we will need more radical transformation in the newsroom for us to become a self-sustaining enterprise."
He continued, "Our imperative is to become a modern media company - more nimble, more experimental, bolder with our ambition and creativity than we are today."
This follows major layoffs at other news companies, including BuzzFeed (which eliminated its news division), Vice (which declared bankruptcy), NPR (which laid off 10 percent of its workforce), MSNBC, CNN and The Washington Post.
According to a spokesperson, the L.A. Times intends to lay off 74 journalists. The paper expects to retain at least 500 newsroom employees after the cuts are complete.
Leaders of the paper's newsroom union, called the NewsGuild, note that it has been engaged in negotiations with the paper since September on a new contract with little progress. The prior one, which remains in effect, expired in November. They say they were blind-sided by the announcement, receiving notification from the paper's chief lawyer just minutes before Merida's note to staff.
"This is a case study in bad faith and shows disrespect for the newsroom," the guild said in a statement. It called upon the newspaper to negotiate alternatives, including voluntary buyouts, which it said was required under the paper's contract. (Fifty-seven guild-represented employees are among those designated to lose their jobs, according to the union.)
At NPR, the union that represented most newsroom employees, SAG-AFTRA, reviewed the network's financial books and agreed the need for cuts was real. The two sides ultimately reached agreements on how the job reductions would be structured.
The NewsGuild also represents journalists at the Gannett newspaper chain who walked off the job earlier this week to protest their pay and working conditions.
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