The Los Angeles Times was rocked by more turmoil Tuesday when editor Russ Stanton resigned in advance of another round of cutbacks.
Stanton, whose last day is Dec. 23, has presided over a tumultuous period of near-continuous layoffs since becoming editor in 2008. He is the fourth editor in a row – after John Carroll, Dean Baquet and James O’Shea – to leave amid demands for cuts.
"It's kind of a tradition — a sad tradition — but it's definitely the case. Budget cuts, staff cuts, they take only so many staff cuts and it's time to go," one individual said in reference to the succession of editors who gave up on the place. (O’Shea then wrote a scathing tell-all about the Times and Tribune culture, “The Deal From Hell.”)
During his tenure as editor, Stanton’s staff shrank from 900 to about 550, with veteran columnists like Mark Heisler and Tim Rutten among the recent departures. New cuts are on the horizon, with 12 to 20 staffers to be laid off sometime after the first of the year, according to one individual with knowledge of the situation. Deeper cuts may well follow after the final numbers for 2011 are in.
Davan Maharaj, managing editor for news since May 2008, will replace Stanton, becoming the latest to try and steward the paper as it seeks to turn around falling revenue.
"Russ has been an outstanding editor—he has helped transform the organization, expanded our audiences across multiple platforms and been a tireless champion of great journalism," Times President Kathy Thomson said in a memo to staff obtained by TheWrap.
The Times has already announced internally that were would be cuts to the copy, design and web production desks in the new year.
Budget cuts could also include eliminating or merging entire sections of the paper. On the block would be weekly feature sections such as the Travel, Home, Image, Food or Books.
The paper's daily circulation is 572,998 as of Sept. 30. That number represents a 21% drop since March 31, 2009, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation. The Times is the fifth-largest circulation in the country and remains the dominant newspaper in the Los Angeles area.
The paper is developing a paywall that is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2012. The paper’s paywall would be a significant step for the newspaper which is still struggling to meet revenue goals in the context of parent company Tribune's bankruptcy.
It is expected to be introduced with the long-awaited launch of a Los Angeles Times tablet, early in 2012. That is a physical tablet — not an app or tablet edition, though some new packages may come with the device. The Times' own James Rainey noted the Times' plan in his final "On the Media" column, but Rainey noted the details remain guarded.
Times executives are still working out the exact details of the digital subscription plan. The paywall is expected to be modeled after The New York Times, which allows readers access to a certain number of stories per month before stories are blocked, according to a knowledgeable individual.
A spokeswoman for the Times told TheWrap on Tuesday, that a paywall "is something we’re considering."
In October, when rumblings of an L.A. Times paywall first surfaced, News & Tech noted that Tribune papers The Baltimore Sun and Morning Call have already launched digital subscription plans.
Stanton’s departure also appears related to tension with a new digital editor, according to knowledgeable individuals.
Emily Smith, senior vice president of digital operations, will play an increasingly large role in overseeing the digital content of the newspaper. That position was created for Smith, a former Disney executive, in July.
According to a different individual with knowledge of the situation, Stanton was so enraged by Smith’s plan for the website that he threatened to quit a month ago.
Before ascending to the top spot, Stanton served as "innovation officer," overseeing the integration of the Times' web and print operations. What makes that ironic is his departure also appears to be motivated by an overhaul of the digital organization.
Despite a large increase in traffic to its website this year, it has not seen a substantial increase in digital advertising revenue.
Stanton declined to comment for this story.
Two early frontrunners have emerged to replace Maharaj as managing editor: Sallie Hofmeister, assistant managing editor in charge of arts & entertainment, and Page One editor Scott Kraft. Hofmeister and Maharaj both worked together in the business section.
While several individuals with knowledge of the situation confirmed that one or both of them are considered contenders — "those are two natural" options one said — a Times spokesperson said the paper had not settled on a replacement for Maharaj.
The Times' woes are exacerbated by problems at its parent company, the Tribune Company, owner of the Chicago Tribune, headed by real-estate mogul Sam Zell and mired in bankruptcy proceedings since December 2008.
In 2000, the Chandler family, who built the Times into a revenue-generating machine and a national newspaper, sold the Times Mirror Company to Tribune. Since the sale, the paper has still produced high-quality content, as evidenced by a series of Pulitzers, including two in 2011 — one for its coverage of the Bell scandal and another for feature photography.