Business & Economy

Top editors out at LA Times; former TV executive named new CEO

The L.A. Times' parent company, Tronc, has installed Chicago Sun-Times editor and publisher Jim Kirk as interim editor of the L.A. Times.
The L.A. Times' parent company, Tronc, has installed Chicago Sun-Times editor and publisher Jim Kirk as interim editor of the L.A. Times.
Photo by Orlando Contreras López via Flickr Creative Commons

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In the latest major shake-up at the Los Angeles Times, Executive Editor and Publisher Davan Maharaj and his second-in-command Marc Duvoisin were abruptly fired Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The newspaper's parent company, Tronc, has installed Chicago Sun-Times editor and publisher Jim Kirk as interim editor of the L.A. Times. The newspaper's publisher will be Ross Levinsohn, who has no experience in newspapers but worked at Fox and Yahoo.

Two other top editors were also fired Monday morning, the newspaper reported: Deputy Managing Editor for Digital Megan Garvey and Assistant Managing Editor of Investigations Matt Doig.

Maharaj had spent his entire career with the Times, beginning as an intern in 1989 and later rising to several reporter and editor roles. He was named Editor in Chief in 2011 and publisher this past May.

A 28-year veteran of the Times, Maharaj had been promoted repeatedly during several ownership and leadership changes. The newspaper has seen declines in revenues with the shift to online publishing, which dramatically reduced readership throughout the newspaper industry.

In the years before Maharaj took over as Editor in Chief, the L.A. Times cut 40 percent of its editorial staff in an attempt to remain profitable. Several previous editors and publishers left the newspaper over the deep cost cutting measures.

There have been repeated rumors over the years that Tribune, which bought the newspaper in 2000, would sell the Los Angeles Times to competing newspaper chain Gannett or to private investors. Instead, Tribune held onto the Times and restructured its publishing operation, forming a new company, Tronc Inc., in 2016.

Despite the restructuring, Tronc, too, has suffered losses in ad revenue and print subscriptions.

In his most recent earnings call in July, Tronc’s CEO Justin Dearborn told investors that the company's advertising revenue for Q2 dropped 15 percent over the same period, but that circulation revenue increased by 2 percent – most of that growth came from digital-only subscribers to the L.A. Times.

The firings were not a surprise to news industry analysts who have seen the same newsroom leaders continue in place over repeated changes in ownership and corporate management, said Gabriel Kahn, a professor at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. He co-directs the media economics and entrepreneurship program.

“The newsroom staff needs to be re-energized and feel that there is some type of long term plan in terms of what they're doing,” Kahn said. He and others have noted that the company had announced, but not acted on, plans to increase reporting on entertainment from foreign bureaus.

“The results that Tronc, the parent company, has posted recently have been lackluster at a moment, strangely, when other big American news publishers have shown signs of life boosting digital revenue and subscriber revenue,” Kahn said. Those are "two areas where Tronc has been pretty flat.”

One of the clear areas of improvement is the digital arena, Kahn said.

“There’s nowhere to go but up. That’s the truth of it. There’s plenty to innovate in terms of the digital experience,” he said.

For two weeks, the online forum Reddit has had a thread airing reader rants about intrusive pop-up ads at latimes.com.

With Maharaj at the helm, the Times won the Pulitzer Prizes for its breaking news coverage of the San Bernardino shooting in 2016 and several awards for its investigation on oxycodone painkillers.

A key criticism of Maharaj and his top editors was that major articles could be delayed for months without reasons that were apparent to the reporters, said Ed Liebowitz, a reporter who wrote the Los Angeles Magazine story titled, “What’s the Matter with the L.A. Times?” His central example was about delays in the Times publishing a story about the drug industry’s role in the opioid addition crisis. Liebowiz interviewed more than 50 current and former Times staffers.

“The composite portrait they painted was of a leader who was very feckless and domineering and insecure and at the same time anyone who would suppress stories often for no reason,” Liebowitz said.

He was hopeful new management might remove a publishing bottleneck.

“This is a paper that is really worth supporting and I know a lot of people have been very disappointed with it,” he said. “It's been contracting in terms of pages. And it certainly is a lot more expensive than it used to be.”

This story has been updated.