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‘Welcome Back to L.A.,’ Jim Kirk — An Open Letter to the Latest Editor in Chief of the Los Angeles Times

Dear Jim,

Welcome back to Los Angeles. Just yesterday you were interim editor of the New York Daily News, flown out at the behest of your bosses in Chicago just ten days before. On Sunday, you had another new job again. At a place you had the same job before, less than six months ago. Wild, isn’t it?!

You’re probably landing just this morning at LAX, and heading straight to the marble-lobby offices that the newspaper now rents from another entity (a truly sad metaphor if you think about it). You’ll try your best to stop the bleeding, although I gotta say, I’m not sure even a superhuman is up to the task at this point.

Mr. Kirk, you are stepping back into the helm of the paper already so mismanaged and badly hurt by your corporate parent’s decision-making that most of us couldn’t imagine it getting any worse, or at least not this quickly into the new year.

So out Davan, and in comes Ross Levinsohn, as publisher. Weird choice.

Levinsohn seems to move through the world as an overwrought tech-bro archetype: that smile, that hair, those buzzwords, that Tinder profile. He brings in Lewis D’Vorkin, who believes that revolutionizing the news involves removing the barrier between news consumer and journalist by somehow figuring out a way to almost reach the state of paying no one to make it.

(Also, D’Vorkin once filed for personal bankruptcy because he used past company credit cards to buy things at Brooks Brothers and Saks Fifth Avenue, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. How a person with that kind of stain on a professional record kept ascending upward instead downward is mind-blogging. It begs the question — Why do bad people keep getting these top-tier media jobs? In this industry? In this age still?)

And then, whoops, Levinsohn it turns out is a raging creep who said he didn’t want to be around “fags” in a professional setting, and had settled two sexual harassment claims. National Public Radio did the duties this time, revealing the frat-guy vibe he carried with him everywhere. Tronc says it vets candidates and conducts nationwide searches for top posts like being the publisher of the L.A. Times. … Right?

Do you have a response to that, journalist to journalist? Anyway, Levinsohn out. Now D’Vorkin out, too. And here you are. Back again!

Over with the people actually putting together the paper, day after day, a new mindset came in. After years and years of cutbacks, of surfing the tide of the legacy media meltdown, the newsroom itself decided it had had enough. I’m sure you can understand, deep down. I used to work at the Los Angeles Times, and trust me, the reporters and editors there strive to avoid being the story. They live instead to tell the story, the story of L.A. and the world around it.

But after a while, if you are truly threatened, that animalistic survival instinct has got to kick in with even the most jaded journalist. So the LAT journalists voted to unionize, big duh there. And now you gotta work with the union, and the union is pissed.

What a moment. A paper once bombed for its anti-union leanings — yes, bombed, with 20 people killed; in downtown L.A.; look it up — had made a complete turnaround a century later. The eagle of the freedom of the press, upon the newspaper’s emblem, once again seems to mean something. Something true. Something practically unbreakable, if you strip it to its core.

Meanwhile, Tronc and the media brand you represent have come to signify little else than bad-faith management for that eagle, if you will, and a kind of a reckless and unfoundedly braggadocious business style that has deeply and negatively affected our chief daily newspaper in L.A.

Tronc, your company, has done more harm than good in Los Angeles. That much is certain. So ...

Screenshot of panoramic photograph of the Globe Lobby, Los Angeles Times.

Given the high drama of what’s been going on, I invite you to do something truly cathartic upon arrival. For the sake of the women and men who produce a vital daily source of Fourth Estate democratic action — journalism — for the city of Los Angeles, do something right for once, for the paper.

Taking the newsroom out for ice cream would be symbolically nice, sure. But maybe the very first thing you should do is immediately apologize to the masthead editors for the Lewis D’Vorkin and Ross Levinsohn disaster. With that, you can send a promising signal about what that kind of bullying, anti-quality management style should represent in modern media companies anywhere — garbage for the trash where it belongs.

Next step, after a possible open-bar “lunch” at the Redwood (as you may or may not know or care, the bar was once a long time ago the LAT newsroom’s old-boys cantina), is maybe you should publicly state that Tronc is willing to negotiate in the best possible faith with the Los Angeles Times Guild. You know, now that it’s a federally recognized union of news-gathering professionals.

Invest in the journalists, who make better journalism, and profits will follow. I don’t see how that’s so difficult to grasp to you, suits.

Because Los Angeles deserves better. This is a real city, with real history, and real problems. We need a real paper, with owners who really believe in that.

You know what has been going on with the LA Weekly, right? Here’s a refresher. And LAist? It’s fully dead, but at least you can still read the archives.

Those of us who care about quality local journalism in this city have been beating the drum, and characteristically getting no response of any kind from our political leaders. Not that we could ever expect any inspired leadership from the boring-as-drying-paint folks up in City Hall these days.

Anyway, you win. The LAT’s corporate parent, still Chicago-made and bound, is not going anywhere and we all pretty much know it. But it’s my duty to tell you that a good amount of movers and shakers in this town are eager to see the paper be sold off as an independent property, to a benevolent buyer or group, anyone, really, with an actual sense of civic commitment to L.A., this country’s second largest city.

I’m aware that’s unlikely to happen, barring a miracle.

In L.A., you, and the bosses you represent, will and should be greeted with tempered hostility. Logically. Although word is you’re a decent enough person face-to-face, the outfit you represent has given me and many others in Los Angeles little reason, until now, to do otherwise.

Sincerely yours, D.

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