L.A. Times staff fights cuts

October 07, 2006|By Bloomberg News

LOS ANGELES -- Reporters and editors at the Los Angeles Times yesterday began a petition drive to support Editor Dean P. Baquet's opposition to further newsroom job cuts.

The petition sends a signal to the Tribune Co., of Chicago, the second-largest U.S. newspaper publisher, that the ouster of Times publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson on Thursday is unlikely to quell the unrest among 940 reporters, editors and other newsroom workers. The Times is the nation's fourth-largest daily paper by circulation.

The petition asks David D. Hiller, Johnson's replacement as publisher, to "approve Dean's plans for strategic investments in the newspaper and its Web site that will expand revenues, enhance Los Angeles Times journalism and ensure a prosperous future for the company and its largest newspaper."

The petition began circulating yesterday and is to be sent Monday to Tribune Co. Chief Executive Officer Dennis J. FitzSimons and Hiller, who left his position as publisher of the Chicago Tribune.

Vernon Loeb, California investigations editor at the Times, said the petition already has received "hundreds of signatures." Last month, more than 400 newsroom workers signed another petition supporting Johnson and Baquet when they went public with their opposition to more newsroom cuts.

Tribune, struggling to lift its shares after four straight quarters of declining profit, has cut 200 Times news jobs in the past five years and ousted Johnson, who had publicly opposed further staff reductions.

The petition expresses a "deep sense of regret and disappointment" over Johnson's forced resignation.

Johnson's removal could complicate Tribune efforts to sell all or part of a media company that owns 11 newspapers, including The Sun, Orlando Sentinel and Newsday, along with 26 television stations and the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

The Tribune Co. acquired the Times in 2000 from Times Mirror Co., a Los Angeles firm controlled by the wealthy Chandler family, whose trusts became the largest shareholders in the Chicago company.

"The Chandler family is pushing hard for some realization of hidden value, and this could have negative consequence," said James E. Owers, a professor of media economics at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

The Chandler-controlled trusts called for a breakup of the company in June. Last month, the trusts reached an agreement with Tribune to appoint a committee of independent directors to consider any action that would increase shareholder value, including taking the company private.

Tribune shares fell 1 cent to close at $32.87 yesterday. They have dropped 37 percent since they reached a five-year high of $52.84 in February 2004.

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