Saturday, October 28, 2006
In New Orleans, editors consider when to stick their neck out over cutbacks
Published: October 26, 2006
HEADLINE: Los Angeles Times Editor Urges Others to Fight Cuts
By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
The New York Times
NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 26 -- The editor of The Los Angeles Times, Dean Baquet, who publicly opposed staff cuts at his newspaper last month, encouraged other editors today to push back more against newspaper owners when they propose such cuts.
"Sometimes when I sit down with editors and managing editors, I find them all too willing to buy the argument for cuts," he said "We need to be a feistier bunch . . . [i]t is the job of the editor of the paper to put up a little more of a fight than we've been willing to put up in the past," he said, because a public service is at stake. "We understand the business model is changing and we have to do some cutting," he said, "but don't understand it too much."
Mr. Baquet was addressing more than 100 editors at the annual gathering of the Associated Press Managing Editors. He made headlines last month when he and his erstwhile publisher openly objected to cuts at The Los Angeles Times proposed by its owner, the Tribune Company of Chicago. He said he received support for speaking out from his staff and from many newspaper people from around the country, as well as from two publishers whom he did not name and even a Wall Street analyst. Three weeks later, the publisher of The Los Angeles Times, Jeffrey Johnson, was forced out.
Many wondered if Mr. Baquet would step down in solidarity with Mr. Johnson. He did not, and as a questioner in today.s audience noted, he has been criticized for not quitting, although many on his staff urged him to stay. Mr. Baquet said he had considered quitting and had a long talk with Mr. Johnson about what to do. "For me, the paper came first; it even came before my relationship with him," he said. He said he thought he could work with the new publisher, David Hiller, and finally decided "the best way to protect the paper was for me to stay".
Mr. Baquet is now in early budget talks with Mr. Hiller and said there was no set timeframe for resolving the staff levels. A cloud remains over Mr. Baquet's future, not only because he has said he would not make major cuts but because the future of the paper itself is up in the air. The Tribune Company has offered itself for sale, in whole or in part, and said it expected a decision by the end of the year.
Mr. Baquet joked with the editors here that he had come to the conference because he expected to see job booths. When the audience laughed, he said, 'They think I'm kidding." He had additional advice for editors, telling them to be honest with their staffs when they disagreed with their bosses. "It seems like a cliché, but most editors aren't," he said.
Several editors said after his speech that they agreed with Mr. Baquet's advice to speak up. "It's never easy," said Brian Toolan, who until July had been the editor of The Hartford Courant, also owned by Tribune, since 1998. "You don't want to be the cause of disruption in your own shop."
"Some of us talked ourselves into thinking that this is a requirement of management -- to make cuts for business reasons," said Mr. Toolan, who is now the national editor for The Associated Press. "But it is the responsibility of the editor to be clear about what resources are necessary, and not to be clear about it is a gross abdication."
Butch Ward, who teaches leadership and editing at the Poynter Institute, a journalism training center, said that the decision to speak up was especially hard for those who have been making cuts over a long period of time. "A decision many editors are struggling with is, after years of belt-tightening, when do you throw up the window and scream, "I'm tired of this and I'm not going to take it anymore?" he said. "In the end, it's an individual decision."
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