The Los Angeles Times’ deputy managing editor apologized to the newsroom on Wednesday evening for “inappropriate” Slack discussions about staff members that were first revealed in an investigation by TheWrap published on Tuesday.
“I appreciate all of you sharing your questions and concerns about the Wrap story. I want to apologize to all of you and to all of our colleagues for putting us in this position,” Julia Turner wrote, according to screenshots obtained by TheWrap.
As reported earlier this week, Turner and Managing Editor Kimi Yoshino had been tasked last year to lead a team focused on boosting digital subscriptions at the Times. To coordinate communication with the team — which included a digital analyst, Kim Janssen, and assistant managing editor Angel Rodriguez — Turner created a Slack channel. The conversations within were blunt and included critical commentary about specific reporters and editors, messages about wanting to furlough staffers who didn’t have bylines in the past two weeks, suggestions of giving staffers $5 Starbucks gift cards as a reward for good work and statements about how it was a “pretty easy decision” to turn down a staffer who requested the paper match a new salary offer they received from another outlet because their work didn’t produce a large enough audience.
But what the team’s members didn’t realize was that the Slack channel was viewable by the entire newsroom — and several dozen staffers in the newsroom were reading along in dismay for months, according to staffers who spoke with TheWrap.
“I don’t remember why I created an open channel to plan the edit sprint last year, but I imagine it was because our efforts to focus on digital subscribers were no secret to anyone in the newsroom. It is true, though, that over time, as we strategized, I forgot that anyone who hadn’t joined the channel might be reading,” Turner said in her message to staff. “The conversation we had there was often mundane and logistical. Sometimes we brainstormed ideas and we discarded lots of bad ones. Sometimes we strategized about how to persuade various teams to try things, and it was inappropriate to do that in a channel where those team members or their colleagues could follow along. I’m very sorry to have put any of you in that position.”
Turner also apologized for how the team’s Slack conversations could have left staff “with the impression that leadership is cavalier about the full value of your work, which can never be captured by any metric.” She said that “data did not play a role” in the case of the reporter who was turned down after they requested a salary match, writing that the paper “just couldn’t match” the “massive raise” the reporter was offered by the competing outlet. But Turner did defend the sprint team’s focus on metrics related to the newsroom’s output.
“There’s also nothing scurrilous in looking at how frequently sections publish. … Often, the best way to serve our audience is to actually publish less. Some departments–like Opinion and Features–actually decreased output, and found that they were able to produce work that both we and our audiences valued more,” Turner wrote. “Data literacy is a good thing. We are fundamentally a pro-information profession, and we can learn a lot from studying what audiences respond to. But data literacy will never be the only thing. Our journalists will always be the ones who decide what we cover, at what cadence, and how.”
“The L.A. Times is nothing without our journalists, and their intelligence, knowledge and time. The purpose of the sprint, all along, has been to give editors more tools and information that can help them use your time–our most precious and scare resource (even scarcer than usual this year)–wisely at a moment of enormous transformation in our business,” Turner continued. “The goal was to help editors find the overlap between what we value and what audiences (both current and potential) value in ways that might not be apparent without data.”