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Female Executive Exodus at LA Times Revives ‘Boys Club’ Questions for Tribune (Exclusive)

Accusations on Spring Street emerge after hire of new LAT CRO Don Reis

Three top female executives have exited the Los Angeles Times since parent company Tribune installed a new chief revenue officer earlier this year, TheWrap has learned, bringing in male hires and raising questions whether past complaints of a “bankrupt culture” will be revived.

Vice President of Film Advertising Francie Berns was fired in the beginning of May, while Vice President of Classified and Retail Advertising Leslie Lindemann, a nearly 30-year veteran, will exit June 1 after negotiating a severance agreement, an individual with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap. Heidi Linnebach, the Director of Live Entertainment, Spirits and Sports Advertising, resigned in late April, she confirmed to TheWrap.

Berns and Lindemann declined to comment on the matter. Berns was escorted from the building the day of her termination, the individual said. Linnebach found a new position at the satirical paper The Onion after clashing with her new boss, another individual familiar with the circumstances told TheWrap.

A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Times denied that any of these executives were fired or pushed out, but declined to say why they left.

The exodus follows the arrival of Chief Revenue Officer Don Reis, who joined the paper in January and has begun filling the executive suite with former colleagues Penn Jones and James Lynch, who are men. Tribune Chief Revenue Officer Michael Rooney recommended Reis, who he worked with at the Wall Street Journal, to Los Angeles Times publisher Austin Beutner. Reis is now Beutner’s direct report.

Tribune has faced allegations of sexist behavior in the past, notably with a front-page New York Times story decrying a “bankrupt culture” at the company then owned by Sam Zell.

The October 5, 2010 piece by the late David Carr pointed at a rowdy, testosterone-led culture led by then-EVP and head of Broadcast and Interactive Operations Randy Michaels.

“Tribune Tower, the architectural symbol of the staid company, came to resemble a frat house, complete with poker parties, juke boxes and pervasive sex talk,” the article said of the company’s landmark Chicago building.

The paper’s VP of Marketing and Communications Johanna Maska, who replaced nine-year veteran Nancy Sullivan earlier this month, said the L.A. Times has an excellent record in hiring women. “Don Reis has a long history of hiring and promoting women in organizations, including ESPN and WSJ, and we are grateful to have his leadership here at the L.A. Times,” Maska said.

She added: “When talking about hiring practices of the L.A. Times and women in leadership roles, here are just a few of the L.A.Times’ recent hires: Mitra Kalita, Managing Editor, Renata Simril, Chief of Staff, Suzy Jack, VP Special Projects, Bich Ngoc Cao, Director of Projects, Alejandra Campoverdi, Managing Editor for Emerging U.S., Juliet Lapidos, Opinion Editor, and my appointment as Vice President for Marketing and Communications.”

But according to the L.A. Times insider, Linnebach’s role was cut and her sports accounts given to Jones. A publisher of the Los Angeles Times Magazine for eight months in 2008-09, Jones was also an employee of USA Today, where Reis ran West Coast sales.

In her exit interview from the Times, Linnebach is said to have complained that the corporate culture under Reis had become unwelcoming to women, the insider said. “Heidi could not stomach the boys club anymore,” added the insider.

Reis has created a director of Events and Special projects position and hired James Lynch, who worked for Tribune as a sales and marketing manager from 2009-2011 and whom the insider described as one of Reis’ surfing buddies.

Replacements for Berns and Lindemann have not yet been named.

In his 2010 New York Times story, Carr found examples of Tribune’s corporate culture:

“Working at Tribune means accepting that you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use,” the new handbook warned. “You might experience an attitude you don’t share. You might hear a joke that you don’t consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process.” It then added, “This should be understood, should not be a surprise and not considered harassment.”

Michaels stepped down 17 days after the story ran.

Tribune’s Rooney landed his top position in November 2014 from The Wall Street Journal where he and Reis worked together after a stint at ESPN in the 1990s.

“My first order of business is just to dive in deep and meet with all of the department heads and get my arms around what the situation is currently,” Reis told the Times upon his hire in January.


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