The new editor at the LA Times may not solve their union problem

Over the weekend we looked at the seeming revolt going on in the recently unionized newsroom of the Los Angeles Times, taking place as their new management team began hiring “scab” reporters. Fears are growing that this new personnel structure is intended to turn over much of the content development work to non-union reporters, making the current staff redundant. The list of personnel changes continues this week, with the pending announcement of a new Editor in Chief. Jim Kirk, who previously served as the editor and publisher of The Chicago Sun-Times, is slated to take the job, but he may wind up having the same “scab” problem as the other new hires. (NY Times)

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 tension 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.

To call the LA Times a hot mess right about now would almost be charitable. Their publisher, Ross Levinsohn, was just put on leave after it was discovered that he was on the wrong side of some #MeToo moments in the past. The previous Editor in Chief, Lewis D’Vorkin, was suspected by the staff of being more interested in the digital side of the business and maximizing clicks than in the journalism. So will the introduction of Kirk smooth over the waters?

While anything’s possible, let’s just say there will still be some issues. If you read our coverage from Saturday you’ll recall that the veteran staff in the newsroom all work for the Los Angeles Times LLC. (That’s the company which actually operates the newspaper.) All of the new, non-union “scabs” work for and report to TRONC (Tribune Online Content), the parent company which takes care of the business end of things, versus the reporting. Now guess who Kirk will be working for. If you said TRONC, give yourself a cookie.

In one of his first remarks after the decision was made, Kirk said, “we will be working together as one team starting tomorrow to do the best work we can.” When you have to remind the people reporting to you and convince them that you’re all on the same team, there’s still obviously some division among the ranks.

The reporters and established editors (now unionized) may have reason to suspect that it’s not all one big, happy family. While not verified, there’s a rumor going around the newsroom that the company has been monitoring their internal communications to snuff out leaks.

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.

Any sort of monitoring of communications in the world of journalism is obviously going to send up all sorts of red flags, far more so than in other lines of work. But at the same time, when you are using a company phone or email system as part of your job, your employer is actually the owner of that equipment so you’re off into a gray area in terms of privacy. It would certainly be a bit ironic, however, if the reporters who make their living (particularly these days) convincing people in Washington to leak stories to them wind up being swatted down for being leakers themselves.

It will take time to determine if there’s actually any nefarious activity or union-busting going on with the new management at the Times. What’s obvious is that they need to remain profitable and their only path toward that objective will involve a heavier investment in digital products and online advertising revenue. That may make some of the newsroom staff who are used to having ink-stained fingers a bit nervous, but it’s just the way of the world in publishing today.