LOS ANGELES, (AP) – The future of the Los Angles Times has become even more muddied after editor Dean Baquet, who had defied Times’ parent Tribune Co. on slashing newsroom jobs, was forced to resign.
The paper’s staff was already facing the possibility that it could be sold as part of a plan by Chicago-based Tribune to please angry shareholders by selling all or part of the company.
Tribune has said it will decide by the end of the year on a plan that could include a breakup of the media company. Billionaire Ron Burkle, business leader Eli Broad and Hollywood mogul David Geffen have voiced interest in buying the Los Angeles Times, but no formal offer is said to have been made.
Now the paper is facing almost certain budget cuts, although publisher David Hiller said Tuesday no cuts will be made this year.
Baquet’s resignation Tuesday comes just a month after former publisher Jeff Johnson also was forced to step down. In a rare public display of defiance, the two news executives had refused to agree to further budget cuts at the Times.
That stand was backed by Times employees, who have rallied behind Baquet. A number of high profile community leaders also wrote Tribune in September urging a halt to cuts at the Times.
“It’s a loss, losing someone as talented as Dean” David Fleming, past chairman of the Los Angeles Economic Development Commission said Tuesday. Fleming was one of the signers of the September letter.
“Newspapers are going through a hellacious time right now. The only way they can fight it is to cut costs, but that’s not good for readers.”
Baquet will be replaced Monday by James O’Shea, the managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, the newspaper said. O’Shea will be reunited with Hiller, who took over for Johnson after serving as publisher at the Tribune.
Hiller met with Baquet’s top deputies Tuesday and urged them to stay. At least one, managing editor Douglas Frantz, told colleagues in an e-mail he would not leave the paper.
“So while I’m angry and heartbroken, I’m not quitting,” Frantz wrote. “And I’m asking all of you not to quit, not literally or figuratively.”
Hiller told the Times staff Tuesday that Baquet’s departure came after the two could not agree about the future of the paper.
“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 in an e-mail to the staff.
“After considerable discussion, we concluded that we have significant differences on future direction, and so Dean will be leaving.”
Hiller told The Associated Press Tuesday the decision to part ways with Baquet was difficult both personally and professionally.
“I came here very open to the idea that Dean and I would work together on into the future,” Hiller said. “I thought it was a very real possibility.”
Baquet declined comment through a Times spokeswoman.
Hiller and Baquet spoke to a packed newsroom Tuesday afternoon. Staffers gave Baquet several standing ovations and enthusiastic applause after a brief, emotional speech.
Baquet told the newsroom to give his replacement a chance, adding that the two had become good friends.
“He told us he knows Jim and said that he’s a great guy and that he had a lot of respect for him,” Times photographer Annie Wells said. “That was very encouraging to hear because somehow we have got to get through this difficult period. We’re all afraid of what’s coming down from Tribune.”
One consumer group launched a “Take Back Our Newspaper” campaign, urging readers to cancel their subscriptions unless the Times pledges not to make further cuts.
“It is especially egregious that Tribune’s action comes on election day, when L.A. Times journalists are working at top speed and for long hours to cover a critical national election,” said Jamie Court, president of Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights
Baquet was hired as the Times’ managing editor in 2000 and was named its editor last year after the departure of John Carroll and publisher John Puerner, who also left over a dispute with Tribune about budget cuts.
O’Shea joined the Tribune in 1979. From 1995 until being named managing editor in 2001, O’Shea was deputy managing editor for news.
Tribune Co. 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.
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.Tribune last week declined to comment on the reports.