L.A. Times to lay off at least 115 people in the newsroom

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The Los Angeles Times announced Tuesday that it was laying off at least 115 people — or more than 20% of the newsroom — marking one of the largest workforce reductions in the history of the 142-year-old institution.

The move comes amid projections for another year of heavy losses for the newspaper.

The cuts were necessary because the paper could no longer lose $30 million to $40 million a year without making progress toward building higher readership that would bring in advertising and subscriptions to sustain the organization, the paper’s owner, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, said Tuesday.

Drastic changes were needed, he said, including installing new leaders who would focus on strengthening the outlet’s journalism to become indispensable to more readers.

“Today’s decision is painful for all, but it is imperative that we act urgently and take steps to build a sustainable and thriving paper for the next generation. We are committed to doing so,” Soon-Shiong said.

Senior editors were part of the purge, including Washington bureau chief Kimbriell Kelly, deputy Washington bureau chief Nick Baumann, business editor Jeff Bercovici, books editor Boris Kachka, and music editor Craig Marks. The Washington bureau, photography and sports departments saw dramatic cuts, including several award-winning photographers. The video unit was hollowed out.

The retrenchment comes nearly six years after Soon-Shiong and his family bought The Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune from Tribune Publishing for $500 million. Soon-Shiong’s purchase ushered in a period of growth and hiring, reversing more than a decade of withering cuts and diminished journalistic ambition.

With the new local owner, The Times set out to rebuild and provide robust coverage of California and the West.

But economic headwinds, which intensified when the COVID-19 pandemic erased more than $60 million in advertising revenue almost overnight, disrupted the paper’s turn-around. The paper maintained its newsroom — more than 500 people — through the pandemic until last summer when another dramatic pullback in advertising, brought on by Hollywood’s labor unrest, worsened the financial picture.

“The economic reality of our organization is extremely challenging,” Chris Argentieri, The Times’ president and chief operating officer, said in a memo distributed to staff, announcing the layoffs. “Despite our owner’s willingness to continue to invest, we need to take immediate steps to improve our cash position.”

The news business has deteriorated in recent years as more consumers turn to TikTok and other social media platforms for entertainment and information. Established media outlets, including NBC News, ABC News, CNN, the Washington Post, Condé Nast and Buzzfeed News, have all shed staff during the past year. More than 2,300 journalism jobs vanished in 2023, according to a recent report.

A portrait of Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong.

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong in 2018.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Tuesday’s announcement follows a week of tensions between management and the newsroom guild over the cuts.

Soon-Shiong expressed disappointment that the guild did not work with management to come up with a plan that he said would have saved jobs. Instead, the guild rejected the company’s offer and focused its energy on a one-day strike last Friday, which, he said during an interview, “did not help.”

Media Guild of the West President Matt Pearce sent a memo to newsroom union members early Tuesday, saying he had just been informed that 94-guild covered positions were among the headcount reduction. Those included the chairman of the Times unit guild, Brian Contreras, who announced his departure on X, formerly known as Twitter.

About a quarter of guild members lost their jobs, Pearce said.

“It’s a dark day at the Los Angeles Times,” Pearce, a Times reporter, wrote. “Many departments and clusters across the newsroom will be heavily hit.”

The guild contract, which was negotiated in 2019 and remains in effect, outlines a procedure to allow unaffected staff members to volunteer for a buyout. Should that happen, some of the people notified on Tuesday may be spared.

Pearce said that the union’s bargaining committee was scheduled to meet with Times management on Wednesday.

While severe, Argentieri said in his memo that initial plans were to lay off even more staff members. “After consulting with our editorial leaders and ownership, the Company scaled back the number of affected employees,” Argentieri wrote.

In the interview, Soon-Shiong conveyed deep frustration with past leadership and attempts to build the Los Angeles Times Studios to take the paper’s journalism to more consumers through documentaries and podcasts.

The owner said he recognized several months ago that former Executive Editor Kevin Merida, who stepped down earlier this month, and several high-ranking editors that Merida put in place were not getting the job done.

Merida has said that he left the paper over disagreements with Soon-Shiong over his role as top editor and strategy, as well as the size of the impending layoffs.

“It is indeed difficult to reflect upon the recent tumultuous years, during which our business faced significant challenges, including losses that surpassed $100 million in operational and capital expenses,” Soon-Shiong said. “Despite these difficulties, we made a deliberate decision to abstain from implementing layoffs within our newsroom during the COVID pandemic, maintaining the newsroom headcount throughout until the last several months despite the losses.

“Since the acquisition of the Los Angeles Times, we have invested almost a billion dollars, underscoring our dedication to preserving its legacy and securing its future,” he said.

Soon-Shiong also pushed back on the narrative that The Times was in turmoil.

“We are not in turmoil. We have a real plan,” he said.

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