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Los Angeles Times editor faces heat over layoffs

The number of planned job losses was reduced by one after a journalist volunteered to leave the newspaper.

The number of planned job losses was reduced by one after a journalist volunteered to leave the newspaper.

The El Segundo headquarters of the Los Angeles Times. (Photo by Jennifer Arrow via Wikimedia Commons)
The El Segundo headquarters of the Los Angeles Times. (Photo by Jennifer Arrow via Wikimedia Commons)

The executive editor of the Los Angeles Times held a staff meeting this week in which he outlined details of a planned layoff affecting more than 70 workers.

Of the 73 positions facing cuts, one person voluntarily left the newspaper of their own accord, and another 16 involve non-union workers whose last day was Wednesday, the newspaper said.

The remaining 56 workers will receive 30-day notices, and the NewsGuild is working with them to ensure they are offered severance pay and other benefits.

Some journalists were emotionally combative with Kevin Merida, who held the town hall meeting with more than 550 journalists over Zoom. After allowing Ameera Butt, an assignment desk worker, the opportunity to speak during the meeting, Merida said he was sorry to see her go; she quipped back: “Sorry doesn’t work in this situation.”

But it will have to. Like other media organizations, the Times has faced a sharp decline in revenue owed in part to the three-year coronavirus health pandemic, and a more-recent pullback in advertiser spending.

The paper staffed up prior to the pandemic, hiring dozens of journalists to oversee new digital and broadcast initiatives that were intended to thrust the news organization further into the 21st Century and meet information consumers on the platforms of their choice.

The honeymoon period between the newspaper’s journalists and its executive leadership is now over. The Times is facing a budget deficit in the tens of millions of dollars, Medina said, and that shortfall has to be address somehow.

“How can we figure out how to make our business self-sustaining, which is what we have to do?” Medina questioned. “We’re dealing with structural problems in our industry and holes that cannot be easily filled.”

Medina said the executive team had been cutting costs since the start of the year in order to avoid layoffs, and that management ultimately shared most of the blame for having to issue pink slips now.

The newspaper tried to characterize the layoffs as a setback for diversity, while affirming that the majority of people who were receiving pink slips were White. Of the original list of 73 people, 19 identify as Latino, 11 as Asian-American, four as Black and five as two or more races.

Race was the key metric by which entertainment reporter Meg James determined the layoffs were a step in the wrong direction in terms of diversity. Nowhere in the story did it say how many of the affected workers identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender; young or old; disabled; or foreign citizens. James also didn’t say how many of the paper’s current staff of over 550 identified as a minority in one way or another.

“Diversity is always important. We need to look at it in every context of our work,” Medina said. “That’s been a lifelong commitment for me, throughout my entire journalism career.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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