Thursday, October 05, 2006

Corporations and newspapers,0,7711575,full.story?coll=la-home-headlines
Tribune Asks for Times Publisher's Resignation
By James Rainey
Times Staff Writer

7:56 PM PDT, October 5, 2006

The Tribune Co. forced Los Angeles Times Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson to step down Thursday, three weeks after the executive stirred a national debate about corporate ownership of newspapers by publicly defying a demand for staff cuts in his newsroom.

Tribune Publishing President Scott C. Smith announced that Johnson would be replaced immediately by the publisher of the Chicago Tribune. David Hiller is the 12th chief executive in the 125-year history of the Times. Smith said during an interview at the paper's headquarters downtown that he hoped the management changes would signal Tribune's intent to maintain ownership the Times. Three local billionaires have expressed interest in buying the paper. Two weeks ago, Tribune's board of directors, under pressure to raise the company's sagging stock price and to appease its largest shareholder, announced it would explore a potential break up or sale of the assets.

The new publisher, a former corporate lawyer and member of President Reagan's Justice Department, held a series of meetings with employees through the afternoon and then met with business leaders Thursday night.

Hiller, 53, said he had no preconceived ideas about whether to follow through with job cuts. Johnson and Times Editor Dean Baquet had refused to cut as many as 100 staff jobs that Tribune had requested, contending they would damage a newspaper that has commonly been rated as one of the nation's best.

"I don't have a plan or a set of numbers or any set of definitive answers," Hiller said in an interview at the Times offices. "What I want to do is come in, get to know the place, get to know my new colleagues and, with them, figure it out."

He told Times editors that they shouldn't assume that he would carry out cuts Johnson had blocked. He also said that despite fears to the contrary, he understood the value that readers placed in the Times' national and foreign bureaus.

Baquet told associates last week he was likely to leave if Johnson was fired -- a move that some at the paper feared would trigger an exodus of other top journalists. But the Times editor and Hiller agreed -- after a hasty Thursday morning meeting over coffee at a downtown hotel -- that they would try to work together.

"I have a tremendous loyalty to Jeff," Baquet told a somber gathering of editors, who packed into a conference room late in the morning. "But, as I have said before, the paper has to come first.
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