Stalemate Ending At Los Angeles Times

Posted by: Jon Fine on October 5, 2006

Those who said that Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons would not tolerate pushback from Los Angeles Times execs were right. Jeff Johnson out as Publisher, replaced by David Hiller, Publisher of Tribune’s hometown paper Chicago Tribune.

Lest there be any confusion as to why this happened, the release helpfully points out:

“Jeff and I agreed that this change is best at this time because Tribune and Times executives need to be aligned on how to shape our future,” said Scott Smith, Tribune Publishing president.

L.A. Times headline: “Times Publisher Johnson Forced Out.”

Left unsaid as of 2:25 Eastern time: The fate of Times Editor Dean Baquet, as well as his top echelon of editors. (UPDATE: He’s staying.)

Johnson, in the Times on 9/14: “Newspapers can’t cut their way into the future. We have to carefully balance economic realities with serving our readers.”

In late August, he and Baquet balked on cuts expected Tribune Publishing President Scott Smith.

In mid-September, Johnson emerged from a meeting with the Chicago brass with his job intact.

As of today, he’s out of work.

LA Observed has an email trail up here.

Turns out Johnson was getting his walking papers just as Merril Lynch analyst Lauren Fine (full disclosure: no relation) released an incredibly downbeat assessment of the newspaper industry. Some excerpts:

On average, we are projecting an 11.5% drop in Q3 EPS across our newspaper coverage universe with six out of the ten companies reporting double-digit declines (…)


We are forecasting a 2% decline in Q3 ad revenues, similar to the quarter to date performance, suggesting no change in momentum during September. The deterioration of ad revenues during the summer reflects an acceleration in help wanted declines, a softening of real estate gains, consistently negative auto trends and particularly weak national ad revenues.
( …)

Against easier comparisons, we are currently projecting a 0.5% decline in Q4 ad revenues, on average.

The important thing to keep in mind is that for much of ‘05 and ‘06, there was much chatter about newspapers’ prospects were terrible while the actual revenue data still showed slight growth.

But now the revenue is catching up—or, more precisely, down—with the rhetoric.

 

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