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Los Angeles Times editor says he is quitting

Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet was forced to resign Tuesday in a power struggle with parent company Tribune Co. over budget cuts at the newspaper.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet was forced to resign Tuesday in a power struggle with parent company Tribune Co. over budget cuts at the newspaper.

Baquet’s resignation comes just a month after former publisher Jeff Johnson also was forced to step down. In a rare public display of defiance, the two news executives had refused to agree to further budget cuts at the Times, saying they would damage the quality of the paper.

The cuts were mandated by Tribune as it struggles with a declining stock price and slumping circulation at all its newspapers. Tribune also is in the midst of considering a sale of all or parts of the company, including the Times.

Baquet will be replaced Monday by James O’Shea, the managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, the newspaper said. O’Shea will be reunited with David Hiller, who took over for Johnson after serving as publisher at the Tribune.

Hiller told the Times staff Tuesday that Baquet’s departure came after the two could not agree about the future of the paper.

“When I came here four weeks ago, Dean Baquet and I agreed that we would work to get to know each other, for me to get to know the newspaper, and we would decide if we were on the same page in terms of the strategic and operating direction of the paper,” Hiller wrote in an e-mail to the staff.

“After considerable discussion, we concluded that we have significant differences on future direction, and so Dean will be leaving.”

Two weeks ago, the Times’ Baquet told journalists attending the Associated Press Managing Editors conference in New Orleans that his stand against further job cuts had not changed.

Hiller told Times employees gathered in the newsroom Tuesday there would be no staff cuts this year, according to several staff members who were present. In his e-mail, Hiller said staffing levels were still being discussed as part of the paper’s 2007 operating plan.

Hiller also told employees they would have to decide if they could support the new leadership team.

“I appreciate that not everybody will agree and choose to join in this direction, and that’s OK,” Hiller wrote. “Everybody gets to choose whether this is a direction they can support, and do so with excellence and passion. But decide we all must, because the last thing we can stand is confusion on our mission and objectives. It’s going to be hard enough as it is.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, Hiller said he met Tuesday with the paper’s top editors, many of whom are close to Baquet.

“I’m hopeful they’ll stay and work with Jim O’Shea and move us forward,” Hiller said, adding the decision to part ways with Baquet was difficult both personally and professionally.

“I came here very open to the idea that Dean and I would work together on into the future,” Hiller said. “I thought it was a very real possibility.”

Baquet, through a newspaper spokeswoman, declined comment.

Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan refused to allow an Associated Press reporter into the newsroom to hear Baquet speak, saying “it’s an internal matter.”

Times staffers, who had twice sent strong letters supporting Baquet to Tribune executives, gave Baquet several standing ovations and enthusiastic applause after a brief, emotional speech, several reporters said.

“He’s been a great editor and supporter — just a great leader,” reporter Erika Hayasaki said after Baquet’s talk. “It’s devastating to see him go.”

Baquet told the newsroom to give his replacement a chance, adding that the two had become good friends.

“He told us he knows Jim and said that he’s a great guy and that he had a lot of respect for him,” Times photographer Annie Wells said. “That was very encouraging to hear because somehow we have got to get through this difficult period. We’re all afraid of what’s coming down from Tribune.”

Baquet was hired as the Times’ managing editor in 2000 and was named its editor last year after the departure of John Carroll and publisher John Puerner, who also left over a dispute with Tribune about budget cuts.

O’Shea joined the Tribune in 1979. From 1995 until being named managing editor in 2001, O’Shea was deputy managing editor for news.

Tribune Co. put itself on the auction block in late September, under pressure from institutional shareholders including the Chandler family of Los Angeles — former owners of the Times — who are unhappy about the company’s languishing share price.

The company has said that three investor groups have submitted preliminary, non-binding bids to buy the entire company. But several published reports last week said Tribune was considering selling itself off in parts because the bids were too low.

The company last week declined to comment on the reports.

Besides the Times and the Chicago Tribune, the company owns newspapers including Newsday in New York, the Baltimore Sun, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel and Hartford Courant. Its other holdings include broadcast outlets in 21 cities, Internet sites and the Chicago Cubs.