Monday, January 21, 2008

Life in the Wake of Art

The timing could not have been better. On last night's episode of The Wire, the ax came down on the newsroom staff of the Baltimore Sun while, on the other side of the continent, a related story was breaking in the offices of the Los Angeles Times (which, like the Baltimore Sun is a Tribune Co. newspaper). Here is how John Rogers reported the story this morning for the Associated Press:

The Los Angeles Times fired its top editor after he rejected a management order to cut $4 million from the newsroom budget, 14 months after his predecessor was also ousted in a budget dispute, the newspaper said Sunday.

James O'Shea was fired following a confrontation with Publisher David D. Hiller, the Times reported on its Web site. The story didn't say when the confrontation took place.

The background reveals that this is just the latest episode in an ongoing story that says as much about the world in which we live (and try to work) as the full five-season epic that David Simon has conceived:

The departure also follows that of his predecessor, Dean Baquet, who was forced to resign after he opposed further cuts to the newsroom budget in 2006.

O'Shea, then the Chicago Tribune's managing editor, was brought in to replace him.

At the time, he asked the news staff 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."

"If I think there is too much staff I will say so," O'Shea told the paper's editors and reporters in 2006. "And if I think there is not enough I will say that, too."

O'Shea is the third Times editor to leave the newspaper since 2005, all of them departing in disputes with management over how much to cut the news budget.

When Editor John Carroll left in 2005 he was replaced by Baquet, who was then the Times managing editor. Hiller, former publisher of the Tribune who had worked with O'Shea in Chicago, then brought him out to replace Baquet.

Hiller had joined the Times in 2006 after former Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson was ousted for refusing to carry out budget cuts ordered by corporate headquarters in Chicago.

A month later, Hiller dismissed Baquet and brought in O'Shea to replace him.

One would think that someone over at Tribune Co. would see a pattern here; but, since they obviously have no respect for journalism skills, I guess they just lack the kind of critical thinking it takes to bring such patterns to light!

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