Election Day Shakeup At L.A. Times

Los Angeles Times Editor In Chief Dean Baquet and reporter Sumi Khan attend The International Women's Media Foundation's 2005 Courage In Journalism Awards on November 2, 2005 in Beverly Hills, California.
Getty Images / Vince Bucci
Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet resigned Tuesday, just weeks after the paper's publisher, Jeff Johnson, was forced to leave following a dispute with the paper's parent, Tribune Co., over cost cuts.

Baquet will be replaced by James O'Shea, the managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, the Times reported on its Web site. O'Shea will be reunited with David Hiller, who took over for Johnson after serving as publisher at the Tribune. The Times is owned by the Tribune Co.

Baquet, 50, was forced to resign by Hiller after refusing to cut newsroom jobs, according to the Times. The announcement was to have been made Thursday, but was rushed after news leaked, the paper said.

Baquet and Johnson had publicly rebuffed the parent company over possible job cuts. When Johnson was replaced, Baquet said he would stay on and try to convince the Tribune to increase its investment in the paper.

Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman declined to comment.

Baquet confirmed his departure in an e-mail to his staff minutes after the news broke on the Wall Street Journal's Web site and on a local Web site.

"By now you've seen the Wall Street Journal story on L.A. Observed that I'll be leaving the paper," Baquet wrote. "Believe me, I didn't want it to come out this way."

Baquet said he would address his staff later in the afternoon.

"And do me an even bigger favor. Let's do a hell of a job on the election tonight," he wrote.

Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan refused to allow an Associated Press reporter into the newsroom to hear Baquet speak, saying, "it's an internal matter."

The news stunned reporters, many of whom have written Tribune to support Baquet and were preparing to cover Tuesday's election results.

"Dean was someone who was held in the utmost personal regard by a great many people in the newsroom," Times reporter Mark Z. Barabak said Tuesday. "It is a very sad and difficult and uncertain time here."

This afternoon, an e-mail was sent to news staff by Times publisher David Hiller, who had come to the paper a month ago following the departure of Johnson, announcing that Baquet would be replaced by James O'Shea, currently the managing editor of the Chicago Tribune.

"When I came here four weeks ago, Dean Baquet and I agreed that we would work to get to know each other, for me to get to know the newspaper, and we would decide if we were on the same page in terms of the strategic and operating direction of the paper," Hiller wrote. "After considerable discussion, we concluded that we have significant differences on future direction, and so Dean will be leaving."

Baquet was hired as the Times' managing editor in 2000 and was named its editor last year.

On Monday, Hiller had laid out the challenges facing the paper in an e-mail to the staff. In it, the new publisher said cost reductions would be inevitable.

"The changes transforming the newspaper business are fundamental and permanent," Hiller wrote, adding that some resources would have to be transferred from the print edition of the paper, which is declining in circulation, to the Web site, where advertising is growing.

"And managers need to lead this change, and be confident and positive, even as we are realistic about the challenging things we will need to do to get there," Hiller wrote. "We cannot allow ourselves to feel victimized by change or to be in denial of what needs to be done to move us ahead."

The Chicago-based Tribune, which bought Times Mirror in 2000 for about $8 billion, put itself on the auction block in late September, under pressure from institutional shareholders including the Chandler family of Los Angeles — former owners of the Times — who are unhappy about the company's languishing share price. Tribune owns the Chicago Tribune, baseball's Chicago Cubs, cable superstation WGN and other TV stations and newspapers.

Like many old media companies, Tribune has been struggling with declining advertising and circulation as readers age and younger consumers turn to the Web for news. Cuts have been made at all its newspapers, which include The (Baltimore) Sun, Orlando Sentinel and Newsday.

While the Chicago Tribune is the namesake paper of the Tribune media empire, the Times is its single largest asset, accounting for nearly 20 percent of its 2005 revenue of $5.6 billion, according to sources cited by the Times.

The company has said that three investor groups have submitted preliminary, nonbinding bids to buy the entire company. But several published reports last week said Tribune was considering selling itself off in parts because the bids were too low.

The company last week declined to comment on the reports.