Business & Economy

Top LA Times editor pushed out amid newsroom unrest

Jim Kirk, who replaced D'Vorkin as editor in chief at the <em>Times</em>, in a photo from last year.
Jim Kirk, who replaced D'Vorkin as editor in chief at the Times, in a photo from last year.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

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Lewis D'Vorkin, the embattled editor in chief of The Los Angeles Times, is being replaced by veteran Chicago journalist Jim Kirk in a dramatic shakeup at the newspaper that follows weeks of tumult in the newsroom.

The newspaper's parent, Chicago-based Tronc, confirmed the move late Sunday. Kirk, 52, who joined Tronc in August, is a former editor and publisher of The Chicago Sun-Times who briefly served as interim editor at the Times ahead of D'Vorkin's appointment less than five months ago.

D'Vorkin, 65, will become Tronc's chief content officer.

Bettina Boxall, a Los Angeles Times reporter and a member of the L.A. Times Guild organizing committee, spoke with KPCC's "AirTalk" about what's happening at the Times.

"We think that [the new editor is] a move in the right direction," Boxall said. "Generally, I think the word about [Jim Kirk] is positive. One reporter who I very much respect described him as decent and straight-shooting, so that will be an improvement."

"I have no reason to believe that he wishes the paper any harm," 25-year Times veteran and now UCLA public policy lecturer Jim Newton told KPCC's "AirTalk." "I should also say, I think that he antagonized a number of people by taking a very firm approach to opposing the union, so I think that there may be some trust issues there."

Newton said that the fundamental question, though, is one of vision and direction for the Times.

"This move ... to try to move to a model that's more contributor-based, less built on the expertise and knowledge of experienced reporters and more on the ability of people to [use] the L.A. Times as a platform for publishing their opinions, I just think is the exact wrong direction for the paper," Newton said. "I think it's loaded with ethical problems, and it really denies readers of the paper the thing the paper provides most notably, which is to say really quality, serious reporting."

NPR's David Folkenflik reports: "These moves follow intense newsroom anger over D'Vorkin's [handling] of the paper's coverage of Disney; amorphous plans to supplement Los Angeles Times and Tronc content with non-newsroom writers and content partners; and D'Vorkin's obsessive reaction to newsroom leaks and controversies."

Boxall expressed concern about the network that appears to be being developed of unpaid, and perhaps even paid, contributors.

"Who knows what the level of their reporting, or their standards would be, or how their pieces would be vetted," Boxall said.

Boxall also said that, if content from the new national newsroom that appears to be being built outside of the regular Times journalistic staff was to be used significantly by the Times, they would likely file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

Another concern: branded content.

"Which are basically sponsored advertisements that are made to look and read like news stories. I mean, that would very much undermine our credibility and potentially drive away subscribers," Boxall said.

Previously, while chief product officer at Forbes, D'Vorkin sought to open up advertising streams by allowing advertisers to contribute material alongside the magazine's own articles, according to The New York Times.

Further, The Los Angeles Times reports that the newly unionized newsroom, "has become alarmed by the hiring in recent months of several news executives who report to business executives — not editors in the newsroom. But those hires have not been announced to the newsroom, sparking suspicion about the company's motives for the new team."

Last August, the newspaper's executive editor and publisher, Davan Maharaj and his deputy, Marc Duvoisin, were abruptly fired over complaints from within the newsroom that business concerns had caused a delay in publication of one of the paper's investigative projects.

D'Vorkin's standing was also undermined by NPR's investigation earlier this month of his patron and former business partner Ross Levinsohn, the paper's publisher and CEO. Levinsohn is now on leave and under review by Tronc after NPR uncovered a pattern of accusations of workplace misconduct, including two sexual harassment lawsuits in which he was a defendant. Levinsohn called the accusations "lies" in a phone call with NPR CEO Jarl Mohn.

D'Vorkin was also criticized for his handling of a dispute between Times journalists and the Walt Disney Company, who banned its reporters from attending advance screenings of films after the Times published an investigative series alleging that Disney got favorable deals from the city of Anaheim, where Disneyland Park is located.

Tronc is also expected to announce new newsroom leadership for the New York Daily News. Its managing editor, Robert Moore, and top Sunday editor, Alex "Doc" Jones, were placed under investigation after NPR's inquiry about a detailed harassment complaint was filed against them.

Moore remains on the job; however, according to multiple newsroom sources contacted by NPR, Jones has been suspended.

This story has been updated.

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