L.A. Times guts diversity in abrupt layoffs. 19 Latinos and 11 Asian Americans among those affected
The staple Southern California publication that recently won two Pulitzers — facing declining ad-revenue and readership — suddenly laid off 13% of its newsroom.
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The Los Angeles Times — the chief publication of Southern California — announced in a staff-wide email that 13% of its newsroom would be laid off in the latest string of blows to the news business, following recent major layoffs at BuzzFeed (which eliminated its news division), Vice (which declared bankruptcy), NPR (which laid off 10% of its workforce), MSNBC, CNN and The Washington Post.
Most recently, journalists at several local newspapers across the U.S. walked off the job due to the cost-cutting measures at Gannett, the country’s largest newspaper chain who cited declining revenue as a result of less ad sales and customer subscriptions.
According to the email written by Executive Editor Kevin Merida and obtained by the New York Times, as a result of restructuring, 74 roles would be eliminated with about 500 people remaining in the newsroom, according to a spokeswoman for the news organization, Hillary Manning.
“The restructuring stems from the same persistent economic headwinds facing news media across the country,” Merida said in the email.
Merida joined the Times two years ago to help lead the newsroom to compete on a national scale with the likes of the New York Times and the Washington Post. The publication won two Pulitzer Prizes last month — for breaking news reporting and for feature photography.
“Collectively, we have done a vast amount of work as a company to meet the budget and revenue challenges head-on,” he added. “But that work will need acceleration, and we will need more radical transformation in the newsroom for us to become a self-sustaining enterprise.”
Unfortunately, a radical transformation took place when the decision to make the cuts was made as it will disproportionately hurt the organization’s Latino, Black, and Asian journalists who play a critical role in covering the diverse City of Angels, which is nearly 50% Latino.
Latinos represent 26%, 19 of the 74 positions slated to be cut, and Asian Americans represent 15%, at 11.
“Reporting positions are expected to be spared,” according to the L.A. Times’ own report on the cuts, but support staff including editors, audience engagement, audio producers and managers are among the positions affected.
Three photojournalists of color were cut, including two Latino photographers who were the only two Spanish-speaking photographers on staff.
The Times also cut three people from its L.A. Times en Español online news platform despite being one of the largest Spanish-speaking populations in the country.
According to the L.A. Times Guild, the company’s union that represents over 450 employees, 57 of the 74 newsroom positions being eliminated are filled by guild members. Latinos represent 21% percent of the guild journalists and 25% of the guild positions eliminated.
Asian American journalists account for 14% of the guild journalists and 19% of those were a part of the cuts.
The layoff notice comes after new owner Patrick Soon-Shiong promised in 2020 to bolster the company’s hiring procedures with the goal of having Latinos represent 25% of the staff by 2025.
“Our staff makeup and coverage should better reflect the fact that one in two people in LA County is Latino. This should go without saying,” the billionaire wrote in a 2020 letter to the Latino Caucus and Times staff.
The Times had also recently launched their new Latino initiative, “De Los,” meant to further expand their coverage of Latino culture, identity and everything that is ‘Latinidad.’
Merida predicted that “the weeks and months ahead will test us as a newsroom,” but remains “supremely confident” about the company’s future.
The Times Guild released a scathing statement on the layoffs that left them “outraged” and “blindsided.”
The Guild began negotiating a new contract this past September in which they reportedly met their bargaining committee over a dozen times in which Merida had attended twice with no managing editor, deputy managing editor or section editor ever in attendance.
“Now, the company has blindsided us with proposed layoffs — which we will begin bargaining over today — and Kevin Merida and newsroom leadership initially only planned to speak with us on Monday, five long days after announcing their intention to upend many of our lives,” the statement read.
“This is deeply insulting.”
Reed Johnson, LAT Guild Unit council chair and editor of L.A. Times en Español, said in a statement that the list of proposed layoffs are not final and cited their current contract in which management is required to bargain with the Guild over proposed layoffs.
“Management also so far has failed to offer buyouts to staff as is required by our contract,” said Johnson. “We were blindsided by this news. Management did not consult us in advance about other options for cutting costs and saving money, short of layoffs,” he added.
“We have been bargaining a new contract since September, and this was never hinted at during bargaining… The Guild is pushing back against this outrageous and reckless action by management.”
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists released a denouncing statement of their own in which they request a meeting with the times’ billionaire owner to in part discuss “what their plans are to cover Spanish-speaking communities after these layoffs, and how they plan to meet their 25 by 25 goal given the deep cuts they’ve made.”
This is the first round of layoffs to hit the company since being acquired by Soon-Shiong, a billionaire biotech entrepreneur, and his wife, Michele B. Chan, in 2018 from Tribune Publishing for $500 million.
Soon-Shiong acquired the San Diego Union-Tribune and other publications in Southern California as a result of the deal and invested in an additional 150 journalists upon taking over.
Layoffs on a much smaller scale took place during the pandemic, but the publication and its labor union negotiated a work-sharing agreement averting furloughs.