Second L.A. Times Editor Is Ousted for Balking at Budget Cuts

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 21, 2008

The Los Angeles Times was in turmoil last night after its top editor was fired for resisting budget cuts by the paper's parent company for the second time in 15 months.

Jim O'Shea, sent by Chicago's Tribune Co. to take over the Times after the previous editor, Dean Baquet, was dismissed in a similar budget battle, lost his job after refusing to cut the newsroom budget further, sources familiar with the situation said.

O'Shea's ouster came after real estate mogul Sam Zell took over the Tribune Co., but the battle lines seemed little changed: a Chicago conglomerate demanding increasingly deep cuts in its Los Angeles property, which has won a string of Pulitzers but feels disrespected by the out-of-town landlord.

Sources who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation -- a company spokeswoman would not even confirm the firing -- said O'Shea prided himself on holding the budgetary line and did not want a shrunken newsroom to be his legacy. While they said the proposed cutbacks were relatively small -- about $4 million, out of a budget of $120 million -- and did not involve significant layoffs, the reductions would follow a steady pace of budget-slashing since the Tribune Co. bought the Times in 2000, including about $10 million last year. The Times editorial staff has been cut from 1,200 to fewer than 900 since then, while circulation has declined from a peak of 1.1 million to about 800,000.

John Carroll, a former Baltimore Sun editor, resigned unexpectedly as Times editor in 2005, blaming "financial pressures" from the parent company as one factor in his decision.

The Tribune Co., which owns two dozen television stations as well as such newspapers as the Sun, the Hartford Courant and New York's Newsday, put itself up for sale last year under pressure from dissident stockholders.

Zell, who has said the company's newspapers could not endlessly cut their way out of financial difficulty, completed his $8.2 billion takeover of the company last month.

Times Publisher David Hiller ordered the firing after O'Shea refused to go along with the cutbacks. A former Chicago Tribune publisher, Hiller was installed in Los Angeles after the previous publisher, Jeffrey Johnson, was ousted in October 2006, weeks before Baquet was also sent packing -- news that leaked on Election Day. Baquet, a Pulitzer Prize winner who is now Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, had taken a public stand against the cutbacks demanded by the Tribune Co., but O'Shea has a quieter, less confrontational style.

Newsroom morale was battered after Baquet's ouster, but O'Shea had made great progress in convincing his colleagues that he would defend the paper against unreasonable cutbacks.

O'Shea is said to have been particularly concerned about further reductions in a year in which the paper has to cover a presidential election and the Beijing Olympics. The sources said Managing Editor John Arthur is likely to be named acting editor to provide at least temporary stability.

O'Shea's firing was first reported by the Wall Street Journal's Web site.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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