Jim Kirk revives hope for the LA Times

Downtown LA. Photo: Kevin Stanchfield/flickr.

Lewis D’Vorkin’s ouster as editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Times this week was precipitated by leaked audio of D’Vorkin threatening his staff, the hiring of a shadow editorial team, sexual harassment allegations plaguing the publisher, a vote by the LA Times newsroom to organize, the abrupt suspension of business and finance editor Kimi Yoshino, and, perhaps, even a profile in CJR that detailed D’Vorkin’s troubled legacy as an editor.

D’Vorkin’s replacement, Jim Kirk, is taking over a newsroom roiling with tension and apprehension. Matt Pearce, national correspondent for the Times, tells CJR that he’s willing to give Kirk a chance, but that the newsroom needs some transparency and answers about what is happening with the company. Pearce also notes that to restore trust, Yoshino should be immediately reinstated.

Another staffer, who asked to remain anonymous, notes there is also lingering suspicion and anger over the role Kirk played in pushing back against the Times Guild’s effort to unionize.

Kirk is a 1987 graduate of Illinois State University. A native of Dolton, Illinois, Kirk worked as Midwest managing editor for Adweek and then as a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. He’s had a long career in Chicago media, working for the Chicago Tribune Media Group and Crain’s. Craig Newman, who was managing editor for the Sun-Times, said that despite having what he’d characterize as an “Irish temper,” Kirk is “an exceptionally good newspaper guy. He knows the chemistry of a good newsroom. He gets the language of business. I never had any experience with him that led me to believe he was anything other than an excellent editor.”

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Another journalist who worked with Kirk, also at the Sun-Times, writes in an email, “While Michael Ferro made the Sun-Times his own personal playground, hiring people like Jenny McCarthy as columnists and creating aggregated repost content with Agrego, Kirk was the voice of reason, the respected journalist who somehow navigated very choppy waters and made people think maybe all was not dead. His reputation is that he’s an adult among children who still understands real journalism, good writing, and all that entails and knows how to guide a world-class organization.”

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But not everyone is convinced. Journalists who worked with Kirk at the Chicago Reader, an alt-weekly—where Kirk served as editor in chief—tell CJR that Kirk was dismissive of their concerns. Kirk also strongly opposed the Reader’s efforts to organize into a union and journalists there described him as a stonewall between them and upper management.

Kirk also oversaw the firing of all of the Sun-Times photographers in 2013, though journalists I spoke with indicate that Kirk’s role in the firing was minimal. Newman explains that Kirk’s role in the Ferro organization was to act as a “shit shield for the newsroom. For every bad idea he implemented there were four or five he protected them from.”

It’s unclear if the shit Kirk will be shielding the Times newsroom from includes the current plans to create a kind of shadow newsroom and a Huffington-Post-like contributor network. Or if those plans will continue.

CJR reached out to Kirk for an interview, but a PR representative bristled when told that they had to talk to me, and ultimately didn’t make Kirk available to talk.

“Whatever comes next, we’re ready,” Pearce says. “We’re organized, we’re energized, people have learned to stand up to themselves, the newsroom is no longer passive and we’re gonna fight for what we believe in. If there’s a hill to die on, this is the one.”

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Lyz Lenz is a writer based in Iowa. Her writing has appeared in Pacific Standard, Marie Claire, Jezebel, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter @lyzl.