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2018-01-29 02:58:03
Troubled Los Angeles Times Picks New Editor Amid Unrest

In an attempt to calm rising newsroom tensions at The Los Angeles Times, the paper was expected to name Jim Kirk, a veteran journalist and former editor and publisher of The Chicago Sun-Times, as its next editor in chief on Monday, according to company officials.

Mr. Kirk, who joined Tronc, the parent company of The Times, in August, will replace Lewis D’Vorkin, whose brief stint atop one of the country’s most prominent newspapers touched off widespread unrest in the newsroom.

Mr. D’Vorkin, 65, who became the newspaper’s top editor in November, will become Tronc’s chief content officer, a strategic role that will involve establishing new products to distribute the company’s journalism, according to a company official briefed on the plans but not authorized to speak publicly about personnel matters.

The leadership changes are the latest twists in an ongoing drama at The Times, which already this year has dealt with a successful unionization vote, a leave of absence for its publisher and a swelling sense of mistrust in its newsroom.

In an interview on Sunday night, Mr. Kirk, 52, conveyed a willingness to improve morale in the newsroom and calm the tensions between managers and Times journalists.

“My message to the newsroom will be that we will be working together as one team starting tomorrow to do the best work we can,” said Mr. Kirk, who has also previously served as the paper’s interim executive editor.

He added that his goal as the top editor at The Times was to “double down our great coverage of California and Los Angeles and beyond.”

“That’s what readers expect from us, and we want to continue that,” he said.

The arrival of Mr. Kirk, most recently the interim editor in chief at the New York Daily News, comes as the job status of the Times’s publisher was already an open question.

On January 19 — the same day that newsroom employees announced that they had voted to unionize — the publisher, Ross Levinsohn, was put on leave following reports that he had previously been the subject of sexual harassment allegations.

Tronc vetted Mr. Levinsohn before he was hired as the Times’ publisher, a process that included a criminal-background check, but the company was not aware that he had twice been a defendant in sexual harassment lawsuits while employed by other companies, according to two people briefed on the matter who were not permitted to speak publicly about it.

The leadership of Mr. Levinsohn, a former Yahoo executive, and Mr. D’Vorkin, formerly the chief product officer at Forbes, has been marred by unrest among newsroom employees.

At Forbes, Mr. D’Vorkin was known for broadening the company’s native advertising offerings, including introducing a product that allowed advertisers to contribute material alongside Forbes articles. Some in the Times newsroom feared that he would focus more on clicks and advertising than quality journalism.

An aggressive attempt by the paper’s management to thwart the unionization effort exacerbated the divide between employees and managers.

Executives at the company made the decision to move Mr. D’Vorkin out of the top editor’s job as they were also revisiting a sweeping reorganization plan, according to two company officials briefed on the discussions. The proposal seemed intended to cut costs and increase the emphasis on making Tronc’s journalism better suited to digital media.

Mr. Levinsohn, who began as publisher in August, was a main architect of the restructuring plan. But now that he is the subject of an investigation by a law firm hired by Tronc, Sidley Austin — the plan is in flux, according to the two people. The examination was expected to be completed in the next several weeks.

Tronc is also contending with sexual harassment allegations against two top editors at The Daily News, the New York tabloid that it acquired in September.

National Public Radio published the details of the allegations against Mr. Levinsohn one day before employees at The Times announced that they had voted overwhelmingly to unionize. The NPR report unleashed long-simmering frustration and anger among employees, many of whom said they felt their managers — including Tronc executives — were jeopardizing the quality of the paper’s journalism.

Several journalists at The Times said they worried that the company, eager to stanch the steady stream of reports other news organizations were publishing about it, had begun monitoring their phones and computers in pursuit of leaks. Two journalists said they had been warned that the company was monitoring employees’ emails.

In a statement, Tronc said it was committed to respecting employees’ privacy. “There’s never to our knowledge been a situation where the company is monitoring people’s emails,” the company said.

Under the reorganization proposal, newly hired editors would supervise reporting that could be fed to all Tronc publications, which include The Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun, according to several people briefed on the potential restructuring.

That system, two of these people said, would also include the creation of new sites — operating outside of Tronc’s existing publications — that would generate their own revenue. It would rely on Tronc employees and outside contributors who are not part of any existing Tronc newsroom.

The future of the Washington bureau, which includes some 20 employees from Tronc’s various newspapers, was also under discussion, according to people briefed on the plan. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Tronc was discussing a potential partnership with the Washington-focused news outlet Axios to syndicate its content.

Since Mr. Levinsohn was put on leave, Tronc and Times executives have met in Chicago to talk about which parts of the restructuring plan could continue, according to the people familiar with the discussions. It was during this time that they decided to replace Mr. D’Vorkin with Mr. Kirk.

In addition to The Times, The Tribune and The Sun, Tronc publishes The Orlando Sentinel; the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida; the Daily Press in Virginia; The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa.; The Hartford Courant; and The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Earlier this month, Mr. Levinsohn offered some details of his plan when he made a presentation to investors that described a “Los Angeles Times Network.”

The project was made more mysterious in recent weeks when newsroom employees discovered the names of several apparently newly hired editors in an internal human resources database, an image of which was shared with The New York Times. Among them were Bruce Upbin, formerly of Forbes, who was listed as an assistant managing editor; Sylvester Monroe, formerly an editor at The Washington Post, who was also listed as an assistant managing editor; and Louise Story, a former New York Times reporter and editor who was listed as a managing editor.

Ms. Story has since decided not to join Tronc, one of the officials said.

In the internal database, the new hires were shown under Rob Angel, the chief of business development at The Times, but are now expected to report to Mr. D’Vorkin, according to the person familiar with the personnel decision. The secrecy behind the hirings did not sit well with reporters and editors; neither did the fact that it appeared the new editors would be reporting to an executive on the business side.

The recent unrest has its roots in the frustration that Times employees had with its previous leaders. Last year, some grew critical of several top managers — including Davan Maharaj, the editor and publisher — in part over the handling of an investigation into the former dean of the medical school at the University of Southern California. Tronc removed Mr. Maharaj and several other newsroom leaders in August, saying that The Times had failed to transform fast enough on the digital side.

Many employees were optimistic that the new leaders would foster the kind of journalism that has garnered the paper more than 40 Pulitzer Prizes. And The Times has distinguished itself in recent months with aggressive coverage of sexual harassment in Hollywood and natural disasters in California.

But a dispute last fall between The Times and the Walt Disney Company raised tensions between the paper’s employees and its new management. After Disney banned Times journalists from attending advance film screenings following the publication of an investigative series on the company’s ties to the city of Anaheim, some employees questioned how Mr. D’Vorkin had handled the paper’s response.

During a staff meeting, after learning that a recording of an earlier meeting had been leaked to a New York Times reporter, Mr. D’Vorkin said that anyone involved with the act was “morally bankrupt,” according to several people in attendance. His admonition further escalated the divide between employees and management.

Newsroom tensions intensified last week when the business editor, Kimi Yoshino, was abruptly suspended without a public explanation. In a note on Thursday to Mr. D’Vorkin that was widely circulated on social media, Times employees wrote that Ms. Yoshino was “asked to take a leave of absence and not even permitted to return to her office to collect her belongings and turn off her laptop.”

“We are deeply troubled by the way this situation is being handled,” they wrote. “We would like a straightforward explanation for Kimi’s absence and to see her return to the newsroom.”

Energized by their recent vote to join the NewsGuild, employees at The Times have indicated they intended to continue publicizing their concerns on social media and in articles published in other news outlets.

“The Los Angeles Times Guild would like to congratulate Jim Kirk on being named the next editor in chief of the Los Angeles Times,” the union’s steering committee said in a statement. “We also look forward to working together in the future as one team — and we look forward to hearing his plans for the paper.”