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Does turmoil at the Los Angeles Times foreshadow far deeper trouble for the paper's smaller San Diego sister, the Union-Tribune?

Ross Levinsohn

Ross Levinsohn

That's the fear of local news insiders, eyes glued to the latest fast-moving drama that has engulfed the Times and its Chicago-based owner tronc in little more than a week.

On January 19, the National Labor Relations Board announced that the freshly formed Los Angeles Times Guild had won a landslide 244-44 vote to unionize the paper's staff, something that labor had been unable to do since the Times was founded in 1881.

The day before, National Public Radio aired a lengthy exposé of Times publisher Ross Levinsohn, reporting he had been the defendant in two sexual harassment suits and accused of inappropriate behavior at previous jobs. Levinsohn went on unpaid leave pending an in-house investigation.

Lewis D’Vorkin

Lewis D’Vorkin

from Pando Daily YouTube video

Now comes word, first reported by newspaper business analyst and blogger Ken Doctor on January 28, that recently installed Times editor Lewis D’Vorkin has been kicked upstairs, replaced with Jim Kirk, previously tapped by tronc to edit its newly acquired New York Daily News.

D’Vorkin was the subject of a lengthy January 24 Columbia Journalism Review post headlined, “The L.A. Times’ Prince of Darkness." Among other issues of controversy, the item recounted the editor's advocacy of a so-called unpaid contributor model, along with creating closer ties between advertising and stories, known as branded content.

Ken Doctor

Ken Doctor

Fueling the tempest was a January 26 dispatch from Doctor describing how tronc had quietly started a new operation separate from the existing L.A. paper called the Los Angeles Times Network LLC.

"So far, about a dozen newer employees, some first hired in November, appear to be working for the new entity," wrote Doctor, adding, "Even as last week unfolded, Times staffers were increasingly asking about the new hires, whose faces and titles they saw. Who were they? What would they do? Whose jobs might they take?”

The same day, the Huffington Post provided a putative answer, headlined, "Tronc Is Building a Shadow Newsroom Full of Scabs, L.A. Times Staffers Fear."

Per that account, a mysterious raft of newly recruited writers and editors were "working on the second floor, despite the newsroom being on the third. And, of course, there was the bizarre fact that they had yet to be introduced to any of the actual newsroom staff of about 400."

The recently unionized Times employees, according to the Huffington Post item, "worry this is a precursor to layoffs for the union staffers, whom Tronc seems to be actively making redundant. Another possibility is that Tronc will focus on building up a non-union workforce under NewCo and kill the union through attrition."

A January 25 letter from the union to Times management fleshed out the concerns: "News reports detail the prospect of troubling unilateral changes that would directly and negatively impact Guild bargaining unit work and the scope of bargaining unit work, including the elimination and/or subcontracting of unit work," wrote Guild representative Darren Carroll.

"Given the timing of these reports to the Guild’s organizing campaign and overwhelming victory, we would regard any decision to unilaterally implement such plans as facially reflective of anti-union animus and would pursue any and all necessary legal remedies."

According to Doctor, the Times and the Union-Tribune together constitute half of tronc's revenue. The company's shrinking cash flow will likely be a point of discussion at tronc's upcoming fourth-quarter report to investment analysts.

In light of a bevy of vanishing U-T advertisers, including big furniture and car retailers, locals aren't sanguine that San Diego's cash-generating machine can continue to make the same contribution as in the past. They fear the chain may soon lay off local writers, their output to be replaced by copy from the new Los Angeles Times Network and free bloggers.

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Comments

petezanko Jan. 29, 2018 @ 6:34 p.m.

The first to go will be the Investigations team that's been taking down Duncan Hunter. Then the copy editors. Then the cops reporters. In the end, we'll be left with features writers who refuse to acknowledge bad news, and business writers who worship the companies they cover, and they will be replaced by people who spend their days commenting on news sites. Yes, kettle, I'm the pot and I just called you "black."

But at least they won't have Don Bauder.

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Visduh Jan. 29, 2018 @ 7:58 p.m.

Happy talk sports will be the last to go. If one pays close attention, many of the predictions are already coming true. The paper seems a clone of its parent, the LA Times. Many of the editorials are identical, and are pure LAT output. The local reporting staff is failing to report many stories that need to be disseminated, but then if they did write the pieces, would there be space on four pages of "local" news to print them all? And it isn't just "yesterday's news today" now, some of the items are a week or more old. Space limitations, or just weak news reporting? Hard to tell.

As far as Duncan goes, I doubt the LAT is any more sympathetic toward him than the existing U-T watchdogs. But how about one of the papers going to work on a far more corrupt/corrupted/corruptible local, Bahnee D, who now wants to be a county supervisor? Where has either paper been when it comes to really digging out the dirt on her?

Just when you think the news reporting situation has hit a new low, it drops again and plumbs depths that were unthinkable a few months previously.

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AlexClarke Jan. 30, 2018 @ 7:59 a.m.

In the small enclave in which I live there is only one person that gets the daily paper and one that gets Sunday only. Both are nine days older than dirt and do not have internet. The San Diego (non)Union Tribune is yesterdays news today.

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monaghan Jan. 30, 2018 @ 10:16 p.m.

It took a minute, but I realized "nine days older than dirt" is a reference to people who live in your complex, not to print copies of the newspaper. Isn't that called ageism? I know for sure it's unnecessarily unfriendly. For your sake, I hope you are using a pseudonym here.

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AlexClarke Jan. 31, 2018 @ 7:24 a.m.

It was ageism to the extent that they are old and rely on newspapers for news. I too am nine days older than dirt but have progressed to the point where I use various sources for news that is now and relevant and not on a newspaper which is reporting news that has come and gone.

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dwbat Jan. 31, 2018 @ 10:55 a.m.

Right. One doesn't have to weep for the days of yore simply because he/she is quite old. There's no need to mourn the days of morning and afternoon newspapers, 8-track tapes, rotary-dial phones, car clocks that didn't work, and awful "TV dinners" in aluminum trays.

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Ponzi Jan. 31, 2018 @ 6:34 p.m.

Alex, I am usually amused at your posts. I still get a daily paper, The Wall Street Journal, and a weekly, Barron's. I did cancel the LA Times and SDUT last year... when I was 58. I don't feel older than dirt though.

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swell Jan. 31, 2018 @ 5:59 p.m.

"One doesn't have to weep for the days of yore"

But would it be OK to just do it once in a while? Morning and afternoon papers—I had forgotten about that. Union and Tribune! Yeah, but now it's too easy to get carried away with each hour's compelling digital news. Easy to forget to go outside for a deep breath of sunshine (or moon if you prefer).

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Ponzi Jan. 31, 2018 @ 6:39 p.m.

Since I no longer subscribe to the LA Times or SDUT, I try to read them online. They have a "pay wall" and make it hard to read stories. But here's a suggestion. Use Google's Chrome browser and right-click on the link to "open link in incognito window" and read away. These folks in IT at tronc aren't very bright. I've seen small dailies stop my incognito reading because their website detects it and stops it from opening the story. Not tronc, they have no clue.

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Visduh Jan. 31, 2018 @ 8:41 p.m.

tronc now will know, and block your backdoor access. Thanks for nuthin'. Just kidding of course.

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dwbat Feb. 1, 2018 @ 8:42 p.m.

I tried that trick today; works like a charm.

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movistar Nov. 1, 2018 @ 1:38 a.m.

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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