The media today: Turmoil at the LA Times as publisher accused of misconduct

After a bombshell report on past lawsuits and “frat house behavior,” the CEO and publisher of the Los Angeles Times is under investigation by the paper’s parent company. NPR’s David Folkenflik dropped the deeply sourced scoop about Times boss Ross Levinsohn on Thursday afternoon, sending shockwaves across a newsroom already on shaky ground due to cutbacks, recent leadership changes, and a unionization vote, the results of which will be announced today.

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Folkenflik reports that Levinsohn “has been a defendant in two sexual harassment lawsuits and that his conduct in work settings over the past two decades has been called into question repeatedly by female colleagues.” In reviewing court documents and through interviews with 26 people, Folkenflik finds that “the portrait that repeatedly emerges is one of a frat-boy executive, catapulting ever higher, even as he creates corporate climates that alienated some of the people who worked for and with him.”

Tronc, which also owns the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News, quickly announced it had launched an investigation into Levinsohn’s behavior, but in a statement obtained by NPR, a dozen senior editors at the Times called his actions “unacceptable,” citing “additional, credible reports” concerning Levinsohn’s workplace behavior. “The organization should not be led by anyone who has engaged in this behavior, if it is true, particularly given the publication’s role in investigating multiple industries and governments on the topic of sexual harassment,” the statement read.

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Levinsohn, a former executive at Fox and Yahoo, was appointed just five months ago, taking over for Davan Maharaj, who was seen as a divisive figure in the newsroom. Last year, employees at the paper launched a unionization drive, which has turned contentious as executives push back against the effort. Levinsohn and the paper’s new editor in chief, Lewis D’Vorkin, have quickly come under fire from within the newsroom.

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The journalistic value of the Times, the largest paper on the West Coast, is hard to overstate. Financial pressures and questionable management may have sapped its reach, but it remains a vital institution. Below, more on the turmoil at the Times and the fallout from Folkenflik’s report.

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  • Rough assignment: The Times’s Meg James wrote the in-house story on Levinsohn’s alleged misconduct, noting that “the NPR article comes during a significant week for the Times, which has endured much turmoil in recent years.”
  • Behind the unionization push: For CJR, Shaya Tayefe Mohajer looked at the organizing attempt by staffers at an outlet with a long reputation for being tough on unions.
  • A fractured newsroom: “The Times newsroom appears to be in a state of revolt,” writes CNN’s Brian Stelter in his follow-up to the NPR story.
  • Recent history: Just over a year ago, Ed Leibowitz dove deep into problems at the Times in a piece for Los Angeles Magazine.
  • A new contributor model?: Just before Folkenflik’s story hit, reports that Tronc may be instituting a contributor model, similar to the one HuffPost just killed, began making the rounds.

 

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.