Editor of L.A. Times resigns

Carroll, ex-Sun leader, concerned about cost-cutting

July 21, 2005|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,SUN STAFF

LOS ANGELES - John S. Carroll, who led the Los Angeles Times to 13 Pulitzer Prizes in the past five years, resigned as editor of the newspaper yesterday, continuing a decade of change in top management of one of America's largest newspapers.

Carroll, 63, who will be replaced by Times managing editor Dean P. Baquet, 48, was known to be unhappy with continuing efforts by the paper's parent corporation, the Tribune Co., to reduce expenses and trim staff in a tough economy. (The Tribune Co. also owns The Sun.)

In an interview after yesterday morning's announcement, Carroll said, "It's true that I was concerned about cost-cutting, but so are 90 percent of editors around the country. I'm not commenting specifically on what my concerns were, but only that there were multiple reasons for this and I wouldn't say that the budgetary reasons were insignificant."

He added that, having been the editor of three newspapers going back to 1979, it was time to find out "if there is life on the outside." After his resignation takes effect Aug. 15, Carroll said, he plans to take "a very long vacation."

The editor of The Sun from 1991 to 2000, Carroll had held his Times post for five years. His is the latest in a series of personnel changes at the top in recent times; the paper has had five publishers in just over a decade and was purchased by Tribune Co. in 2000 after an internal scandal.

The current publisher, Jeffrey M. Johnson, told the staff that since joining the Times, Carroll had "raised the standards in virtually every area of the news operation" and led the paper "through a period of great achievement."

In a statement, Carroll thanked the staff for their "fine work and generous spirit." Regarding Baquet, a former national editor at The New York Times whom he hired with an eye toward his own succession, Carroll said, "I doubt there's a better qualified editor anywhere."

Present and former Times staff members said yesterday that Carroll's tenure was marked by frustration, most notably as a result of Tribune Co.'s demands for staff reductions in the Times newsroom.

"I don't think he'd ever been forced to cut to the bone as much as he was forced to do here," said William Overend, a 28-year employee who had edited the paper's Ventura County edition and who accepted a buyout offer during a staff reduction last year. "A lot of people were very unhappy. There haven't been many happy times there since the day [former publisher] Otis Chandler left."

The Chandler dynasty had ruled the newspaper since shortly after its inception in 1881, when Los Angeles was closer to a Gold Rush outpost than a glitzy metropolis. When the Tribune Co., publisher of the Chicago Tribune, bought the Times Mirror Co. for $6.38 billion in 2000, it marked a sea change in the culture of the Times and the other former Times Mirror papers.

Observers yesterday said it could not have been easy for an editor like Carroll, who was brought in to stamp the paper with his investigative zeal, to deal more and more with the bottom line.

"That could not entirely have been a happy thing to do," said Martin Kaplan, associate dean at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. "I gather there were a lot of unhappy meetings."

Carroll, described by those who know him as charming and courtly, has many fans from his long years in newspapers, including The Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. He is also almost obsessively dedicated to his craft.

"He's very ambitious and very patient," said Scott Shane, a New York Times reporter who spent 20 years at The Sun, including all of Carroll's nine-year tenure. "He was very interested in big projects. He didn't micromanage them, at least initially, but in the latter stages he'd get involved to the point of writing headlines."

For many yesterday, there was deep regret at the news of Carroll's departure.

"The newspaper business today lost one of its best editors - arguably its very best," Rem Rieder, the editor of American Journalism Review, wrote yesterday on the periodical's Web site. Rieder said that when Carroll arrived at the Times, it was "a deeply wounded institution."

The paper had just gone through an embarrassing debacle, when it was learned that it had agreed to split the profits from a special magazine section on the new Staples Center arena with the center itself - a clear conflict of interest. Carroll, Rieder said, put the paper back together "with a vengeance."

"There's no doubt that the significance of journalism prizes can be overestimated, but they are one indicator of a paper's quality," Rieder wrote. "In the 83 years between the advent of the Pulitzer Prizes and Carroll's arrival, the Times won 25 Pulitzers. In the past five years, it won 13."

Carroll had to contend with editorial as well as financial pressures. In October 2003, about 1,000 readers canceled their subscriptions to the Times to protest a series of stories, published just days before the gubernatorial election, on allegations from 16 women that Republican candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger had groped them. Critics claimed that Carroll and the Times were attempting to influence the election, which Schwarzenegger won.

The Times reported recently that it experienced circulation declines of 6.5 percent daily and 7.9 percent on Sunday, similar to declines at many U.S. newspapers. Overall weekday circulation for the Times has dropped from 1,018,000 in 2000 to 907,997. The paper sells 1,253,849 copies on Sundays.

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