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LA Times publisher latest to quit at Tribune

The Los Angeles Times says publisher David Hiller has resigned after 21 months at the helm of Tribune Co.'s largest paper.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Chicago Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski and Los Angeles Times publisher David Hiller resigned Monday as parent company Tribune Co. cuts staff and shrinks its papers nationwide to save money.

Tribune Co. is cutting costs to offset declines in advertising and circulation revenue that have sharpened this year for most newspapers in the United States.

Hiller, who stepped down after 21 months at the helm of Tribune Co.’s largest paper, was the third publisher at the Times since Tribune bought the paper in 2000.

Lipinski has been in the top post at Tribune Co.’s flagship paper for seven years. Her departure comes a week after the 161-year-old newspaper told its staff it would eliminate about 80 newsroom jobs.

“This position is not the fit it once was,” Lipinski told her staff in a memo Monday.

Lipinski said there was no one reason for her decision to leave. Associate editor Gerould W. Kern will replace her.

The Times did not immediately announce Hiller’s successor. His predecessor, Jeffrey Johnson, was ousted in late 2006 when he balked at trimming newsroom staff, also to cut costs.

The paper plans to cut 250 positions, including 150 in the print and online news departments, and reduce its weekly page count by 15 percent. Some sections will be eliminated and stories are to run shorter.

Last December, Tribune bought out its public shareholders in an $8.2 billion deal orchestrated by real estate mogul Sam Zell. Now, he and the company are struggling to service that debt with cuts at its newspaper properties, which also include the Orlando Sentinel and the Baltimore Sun.

The Sun plans to stop printing business news in a separate section at the end of this month, and the Sentinel has changed its layout to include more graphics and charts, and it has reduced news staff.

Newspaper revenues and circulation have shrunk as readers — with advertisers in tow — increasingly move online. Advertisers spend online a small fraction of what they used to pay newspapers for prime ad space.

Hiller took over as Times publisher after Johnson publicly criticized measures to cost-cutting measures including reducing the paper’s foreign coverage.

Hiller then forced out editor Dan Baquet, who also opposed the cutbacks. In January, Times editor James O’Shea stepped down, also in protest of cuts that Tribune had ordered. He was the third editor to leave the paper since 2005. The paper’s current editor is Russ Stanton.

Tribune Co. Chief Operating Officer Randy Michaels told lenders on a conference call last month that the company can save a lot of money by trimming staff and “rightsizing” its newspapers. Michaels said Tribune executives were evaluating the productivity of individual journalists with an eye toward cutbacks.

A spokesman said Lipinski’s departure is not related to the cutbacks.

“There is much to do, and your new owners should have their own editor, compatible with their style and goals,” Lipinski wrote to the staff. Her last day is Thursday.

Kern, who joined the company in 1991 as a suburban editor, will become the paper’s 21st editor. He took over as associate managing editor of the metro desk in 1993 before moving to lead the features desk two years later. He became associate editor in 2001.

In a press release, Kern said he is “confident” the Tribune’s “long history of innovation in the face of change” will help the paper adjust to the changing industry.

Lipinski started at the Tribune as a summer intern. In 1988, she was one of three reporters awarded a Pulitzer Prize for a series of investigative stories about the Chicago City Council.

Her resignation comes two months after George De Lama, the paper’s managing editor for news, announced he was leaving the Tribune after 30 years.

The staff cuts at the paper, which aim to save $8.8 million in personnel costs, will remove 55 or 60 of its roughly 575 newsroom jobs. The reduction will happen by the end of August, staffers were told last week.

A company representative said the move would occur by fall but that Tribune had not decided which positions would be affected.