Departing L.A. Times Editor Blasts Tribune Co. in E-Mail to Staff

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The top editor at the Los Angeles Times told his staff Monday he was forced out for opposing newsroom cutbacks and blasted the paper's parent firm, Tribune Co., for what he called "voodoo economics" and an "asinine" budgetary system.

James O'Shea, whose departure was first reported Sunday after just 14 months on the job, is the third editor to leave the newspaper since 2005. He said his position was terminated by publisher David Hiller after discussions about current and future budgets.

"(We) didn't share a common vision for the future of the Los Angeles Times," O'Shea said in an e-mail to the paper's newsroom, widely circulated on the Internet. "David decided he wanted to terminate my employment and get another editor."

Hiller did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

O'Shea's parting e-mail criticized how the Tribune Co. allocates resources to all nine of its newspapers. He said he was forced to consider closing foreign bureaus and cutting back other parts of the L.A. Times to free up cash for the upcoming Olympics and the presidential campaign.

"That's no plan for the future," O'Shea said. "That is not serving the interest of the readers. It is simply stupid."

In all, O'Shea had been asked to make cuts of about $4 million, the L.A. Times reported.

"The current system relies too heavily on voodoo economics and not enough on the creativity and resourcefulness of journalists," O'Shea wrote.

His departure comes just a month after the Times' parent, Chicago-based Tribune Co., was taken private in an $8.2 billion buyout by real estate magnate Sam Zell.

Zell was not available for comment Monday, Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman said, but he sent an e-mail to Times staff Monday backing Hiller.

"Hiller has my full support," Zell wrote. "He carries direct responsibility for the staffing and financial success of the L.A. Times."

Weitman said that since becoming Tribune chairman, Zell has consistently said he wants control of the company's entities to become less centralized in Chicago and move to a more local level. The Tribune Co.'s newspapers include the Baltimore Sun, Newsday and the Chicago Tribune, and the company owns 23 TV stations and one radio station, Weitman said.

O'Shea said Zell would come to "understand how asinine the current budgetary system is" and will change it because "a dollar's worth of smart investment is worth far more than a barrel of budget cuts."

O'Shea's move from the paper follows that of his predecessor, Dean Baquet, who was forced to resign after he opposed further cuts to the newsroom budget in 2006.

When O'Shea, who at the time was the Chicago Tribune's managing editor, was brought in to replace him, he asked the newsroom not to see him as "the hatchet man from Chicago" and promised to fight to ensure the Times would "remain a major force in American journalism."

Last April, the Times announced it was cutting up to 150 jobs, including 70 newsroom positions, as a result of declining revenue.

The Times is just one of many newspapers plagued by circulation and revenue losses to new media and in his e-mail, O'Shea lamented the state of the newspaper industry but said it could be revived by wise investment and a focus on "solid, relevant journalism."

"We must integrate the speed and agility of the Internet with the news judgment and editorial values of the newsroom," O'Shea wrote. "Values that are more important than ever as the hunger for news continues to surge and gossip pollutes the information atmosphere."