'Chicago Tribune' Editor O'Shea to Lead 'Los Angeles Times'

Dean Baquet Loses His Battle to Resist Cuts in Newsroom

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- The Los Angeles Times named James E. O'Shea, managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, its new exec VP-editor. He succeeds Dean Baquet, who resigned under pressure from the paper's owner, Tribune Co.
Dean Baquet
Dean Baquet Credit: AP

Earlier this year, Mr. Baquet teamed with Times publisher Jeffrey Johnson to publicly resist Tribune-mandated budget cuts at the Times, which has seen negative advertising and circulation trends accelerate in recent years. A Tribune Co. spokesman declined to comment.

Forced out
Mr. Johnson was forced out of the publisher's job last month and replaced by David Hiller, a veteran Tribune executive who most recently held the same job at the Chicago Tribune. Speculation about Mr. Baquet's future promptly began to circulate, but he did his best to diffuse it at the time, saying he felt he could work with Mr. Hiller.

"I'm going to do everything in my power to convince him that this needs to be a large, robust newsroom," Mr. Baquet told The New York Times. "He said he didn't have a number, and I thought that opened the way for a conversation."

The conversation, apparently, didn't end to Mr. Baquet's liking.

"I want to thank Dean for all of his contributions and leadership during the past six years," Los Angeles Times Publisher David D. Hiller said. "He is a great editor and journalist. But, after considerable discussion during the past several weeks, Dean and I concluded that we have significant differences on the future direction of the Times."

Journalistic black eye
Mr. Baquet's departure will be seen by some as a journalistic black eye for the paper, much as his 2000 defection from The New York Times to become the Los Angeles Times' managing editor was seen as a sign of the paper's journalistic resurgence following a scandal over cooperation between the paper's editorial and advertising departments.

"When people leave The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times is not usually where they go," the media-obsessed New York Observer wrote at the time. "Mr. Baquet's defection has led some on 43rd Street to reconsider the Los Angeles Times as a contender to be a national paper."

Indeed, under Mr. Baquet and former editor John S. Carroll, who took over the Los Angeles Times shortly after Tribune bought the paper in 2000, the paper was reborn as a journalistic force, winning a stunning five Pulitzer Prizes in April 2004. But Mr. Carroll resigned in 2005, and has since warned repeatedly of the ills of rampant cost-cutting at the Times and throughout the industry. Mr. Baquet and Mr. Johnson echoed those sentiments earlier this year, and now both men are gone from the paper.

O'Shea praised
Mr. O'Shea, meanwhile, was praised as an editor who will not resist reinventing the Los Angeles Times newsroom. "Jim is a journalist's journalist, and a tough-minded but fair, independent thinker of rock-hard news values and integrity, professional and personal," Mr. Hiller said. "Jim understands the imperatives of sustaining readership. At the Chicago Tribune, he's led its efforts to reinvent how the newsroom operates in the new 24/7, multichannel environment. He will not miss a beat in leading similar efforts here at the Times."

It's unknown whether Mr. Baquet's departure will trigger a larger exodus. A local internet report in September said three of Mr. Baquet's top lieutenants had a "suicide pact" to quit promptly in the event of his ouster. As of this morning, those staffers were still in place.

In an e-mail message to the staff posted on the LA Observed website, Mr. Baquet addressed his departure: "By now you've seen The Wall Street Journal story on LA Observed that I'll be leaving the paper. Believe me, I didn't want it to come out this way. Give me some time, and I'll talk to the entire newsroom later this afternoon, at 3 p.m. outside my office. And do me an even bigger favor. Let's do a hell of a job on the election tonight."
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