Explaining Southern California's economy

UPDATED: New round of layoffs at the Los Angeles Times

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LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 07: The Los Angeles Times building is seen on June 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.

The Los Angeles Times laid off an unspecified number of employees Friday, newspaper spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan confirmed to KPCC.

Sullivan declined to specify how many employees lost their jobs or which departments were affected, saying only that the paper "undertook a modest staff reduction." 

Times staff members — who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the company — said about 20 employees were laid off. The graphics department took a huge hit, the employees said.

Among those laid off were Graphics Editor Les Dunseith and assistant managing editor Joe Eckdahl, the staff members said.

Staff reporter Kenneth Weiss, who conceived a series of stories on the state of the world's oceans that led to the paper winning a Pulitzer Prize in explanatory reporting, said he accepted a buyout package. Weiss said he believes his last day at the paper will be sometime in mid-July.

Weiss said he was on unpaid book leave for six months. He is working on a book about population growth and its connection to environment decline, hunger, poverty, national security and the rights of women to plan their families and their futures.

"The leave is about to end and I really want to finish this book," Weiss said. "I'm not sure if I could do that and juggle the demands of daily journalism."

Weiss said it was his decision to accept the buyout and it was voluntary. He said it was painful to hear about the layoffs on Friday.

"I find all these cuts excruciating," Weiss said. "I understand the financial realities of the newspapers. This is my hometown newspaper and I love it. I always loved the LA Times and it's very painful to me not just on a professional level, but also on a personal level to see the paper diminish in size and staff."

The reduction in staff come at a time when the Los Angeles Times could be up for sale. The paper’s owner, Tribune Company, said it is exploring its strategic options. Those options include potentially selling all eight of its newspapers - which include the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun - while retaining its broadcasting division.

Tribune emerged from bankruptcy at the end of last year and is struggling to increase its profits. 

On Friday, Tribune reported that its net income plunged 41 percent to $58.4 million in the first quarter, compared to the same period a year ago. The decrease was in part due to Tribune paying $21.8 million in income taxes in the first quarter of this year, as opposed to last year's $12.2 million tax refund, according to the company's financial documents.

The company's newspaper division saw a 3 percent drop in first quarter operating revenues due to a 9 percent decline in ad revenues, Tribune said. The largest declines in operating revenues were in Los Angeles, Chicago and South Florida, the company said. The company reported revenues of almost $466 million in its newspaper division.

However, operating profits in the newspaper division in the first quarter improved from a year ago -- up to $46 million from $10 million, Tribune reported. The company reported lower pensions expenses because it had fewer job reductions in 2013.

Below is the memo that was sent out to Los Angeles Times employees from Executive Editor Davan Maharaj and managing editor Marc Duvoisin. 

 

To the staff:

We’ve just completed a modest round of staff reductions.

Losing even a small number of colleagues is difficult. Losing them in a close-knit newsroom where we all work together for a common purpose is even harder.

But it does not alter our mission or our focus on the future.

We will continue to reshape the newsroom to enhance our digital report, from breaking news to narrative and investigative projects. That will require us to keep developing our multimedia skills--within the newsroom and with new recruits.

The redesign of latimes.com is set to launch this fall. It will greatly enhance the reader experience and give us a wealth of new tools for presenting stories, graphics, photos and video. The redesign will build on recent improvements, such as the new template for Column One, the groundbreaking work of our data team and our steadily expanding real-time coverage of the news.

We’re both available to respond to questions or concerns.

--Davan and Marc

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Los Angeles Times reporter Kenneth Weiss was laid off. Weiss volunteered to leave the paper by accepting a buyout package. KPCC regrets the error.

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