'Los Angeles Times' Publisher Forced Out

The Chicago-based Tribune Company has ousted the publisher of The Los Angeles Times, Jeffrey Johnson, after he refused to cut his newsroom staff. He's the second publisher to leave the paper over corporate cuts in the newsroom.

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Yesterday, the publisher of The Los Angeles Times was forced out of his job. He'd been refusing to make new rounds of deep cuts in the newsroom there, so he was cut.

The ouster occurred as the parent, Tribune Company, is facing pressure to sell off some of its holdings, and here's NPR's David Folkenflik.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: LA Times publisher Jeffrey Johnson got a standing ovation from senior managers yesterday. It was a fond farewell after a firing that'd been widely predicted.

John Morton is a consultant to several newspaper companies.

Mr. JOHN MORTON (Newspaper Analyst): You don't have an executive in any kind of corporation refuse to do the bidding of his superiors without suffering some consequences.

FOLKENFLIK: Johnson wasn't available for comment, but veteran LA Times legal reporter Henry Weinstein says emotions are raw. Weinstein spoke from the newsroom last night.

Mr. HENRY WEINSTEIN (Reporter, The Los Angeles Times): People here are very concerned that if we continue to have these cuts that the quality of this newspaper will be diminished.

FOLKENFLIK: In September, Johnson and editor Dean Baquet were told to cut another $10 million by the end of the year and to reduce the editorial staff again - this time by 15 percent. Someone closely familiar with Tribune's budget operations says Johnson was also told to boost profits seven percent each year above the last. Johnson and Baquet protested it wasn't possible and would damage the paper.

Editor Baquet has told colleagues he'll stick around, at least for now, to try to stave off further harm. Henry Weinstein says that's a good thing for the paper's journalists, and also for the people who rely on its reporting.

Mr. WEINSTEIN: Information doesn't just appear magically on the Internet, either on our Web site or when aggregated by somebody like Google or Yahoo. It takes men and women, flesh and blood out in the field, gathering up information, whether it's in south central Los Angeles or in Siberia or Iraq.

FOLKENFLIK: The new LA Times publisher is David Hiller, who held the same job at the Chicago Tribune. He tells NPR he'll keep an open mind on how to plan for the paper's future and whether more cuts lie ahead.

Mr. DAVID HILLER (Publisher, The Los Angeles Times): I came on here, I don't have a pre-made plan, and I don't have a number in my head or in my briefcase.

FOLKENFLIK: Hiller is the third long-time Tribune official to serve as publisher at the LA Times in less than three years. Both his two immediate predecessors were forced out for resisting cuts. Former editor John Carroll also left last year, largely in protest.

Hiller says he wants to capture more profits while staying true to the Times' traditions.

Mr. HILLER: That's the challenge of our time, and, you know, there isn't any magic bullet. You need to be efficient without compromising the quality of your journalism, and that's a hard balance.

FOLKENFLIK: Tribune's stock has been battered as investors fear Web sites will draw away still more advertisers and readers. And Tribune's largest shareholders have forced the company to consider selling some of its TV stations and newspapers, or to be sold outright, as the Knight Ridder newspaper company was earlier this year.

Tribune company officials say they'll decide by year's end.

David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.

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