Last week, Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet publicly challenged the Tribune Company’s latest demands to cut the size of his paper’s newsroom. Twenty L.A. civic leaders joined the debate in defense of the Times — the best Tribune paper, and one which brings in about a quarter of Tribune Publishing’s $4 billion or so in annual revenue — and now CEO Dennis FitzSimons has fired back a four-page letter in his company’s defense. The gloves are off in the standoff between the Times and Tribune Co. bosses, and bloggers are predicting that something has got to give.
FitzSimons’ letter “noted that the paper has won numerous Pulitzers during the Tribune’s ownership and spends almost twice as much (as a share of revenue) on editorial than the Otis Chandler regime did,” writes Kevin Roderick at LA Observed. “To rebut the idea that local ownership would be better, he played the Staples Center card — noting that it was under Times Mirror that the Times was embarrassed by a profit-sharing deal with the new arena. Today’s story in the Times by media reporter James Rainey points out, however, that the editor in charge during the Pulitzer-winning reign quit last year in frustration over Tribune budget cutting.”
Indeed, John Carroll, Baquet’s predecessor, stepped down as editor in August 2005 under such circumstances. Taking this into consideration, Shoot the Messenger is elated with Baquet’s resistance now, announcing: “In a rare piece of good news for print journalism, L.A. Times editor Dean Baquet has resisted his bosses’ demands for staff cuts. After 200 job cuts at the L.A. Times in the last five years Baquet told the Times’ management more staffers were needed to provide quality coverage of local, national and international issues.”
The Philadelphia Daily News’ Attytood blogger, Will Bunch, concurs. “We’ve always liked (from afar) journalist Dean Baquet, who’s not only a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter but whose family used to run an awesome soul food restaurant in New Orleans called Eddie’s, where we had the thrill of dining once, back in the day,” he writes. “Dean Baquet is now the editor of the Los Angeles Times, and today he’s a hero.”
But not all are of the same mind. “L.A. Times Editor’s and Publisher’s Defiance Are Firing Offense,” writes Tom Blumer at Bizzyblog. “If it’s not, the people who run the Tribune Co. have lost control of it, and THEY need to go. Dean P. Baquet and Jeffrey M. Johnson have drawn the line in the sand, and have clearly been in open defiance for several months … He should have resigned by now if he really thought the company was going too far, as should have Mr. Johnson. But they are acting as if their newspaper is some kind of indispensable public utility. The public, which is abandoning them by canceling subscriptions at a net rate of 5 percent or more every six months, clearly doesn’t agree.”
At Slate, Mickey Kaus expresses similar skepticism. “Before you rush to agree with LAT columnist Tim Rutten’s self-satisfiedly righteous denunciation of the evil, greedy absentee-owning Tribune Co.,” he writes, “Do you really think Dean Baquet couldn’t put out a high-quality Los Angeles newspaper with a mere 800 editorial employees (instead of the current 940)? The Washington Post operates with about 800 editorial employees. It’s pretty good!”
But regardless of how this all shakes out, Johnson and Baquet’s “defiant stand,” Times reporters Rainey and Thomas S. Mulligan wrote today, “marked a turning point in Tribune’s rocky six-year ownership of the paper.”
Predicting that the duo’s defiance would cost them their jobs, “A top executive at a large newspaper chain” gave this choice quote: “I hope those guys have their career plans well made,” he said, “because you do not tell Dennis FitzSimons and those guys at Tribune you are not going to do something. If you do, you are going to be on the beach, real soon.”