By: Richard Prince, Journal-isms

The decision by the Los Angeles Times to eliminate more than 70 newsroom positions is meeting strong pushback from the newsroom, from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and from the Times’ News Guild, with NAHJ noting that the decision will disproportionately affect Latino journalists.

"The departures include 34 white people and 39 people of color: 19 Latino people, 11 Asian American people, four Black people and five employees who identify as two or more races," Meg James wrote for the Times, reporting on a Zoom meeting between "a raw and angry staff" and Executive Editor Kevin Merida.

"This is a setback for us," Merida acknowledged, noting that management was forced to follow the rules of the labor contract, which requires that layoffs be based on seniority. "Diversity is always important. We need to look at it in every context of our work… That's been a lifelong commitment for me, throughout my entire journalism career."

But Merida said the Times was facing a budget gap of "tens of millions of dollars," which prompted the decision to cut dozens of staff members. Executives initially announced 74 layoffs, but the number was reduced by one on Thursday after a team leader volunteered to go. James also wrote, "The Times was making strides toward its profitability goals until COVID-19 pandemic closures in 2020 decimated advertising. . . ."The Times' contraction unfolded against a broader backdrop of a newspaper industry in an existential crisis that has prompted dozens of newspapers to fold. Newspapers are starving for advertising revenue, which is being raked in by internet giants, including Google, Facebook and TikTok."

During the meeting, Merida told more than 500 staff members, "It's terrible. I feel awful about it but when you’re a leader you have moments like this. We’ll be losing a lot of very valuable people and that’s just really hard to take. It’s hard for me, too."

NAHJ maintained that "Latino and Asian staff members, in particular, are overrepresented among those who were recently notified that they will be laid off. Latinos represent 26 percent of the 74 positions slated to be cut, and Asian Americans represent 15 percent. Figures released last year showed that Latinos comprised 15 percent of the Times newsroom."

NAHJ requested a meeting with Times leadership "to discuss why Hispanic journalists are being disproportionately laid off, what their plans are to cover Spanish-speaking communities after these layoffs, and how they plan to meet their 25 by 25 goal given the deep cuts they've made," a reference to Times plans to have a staff that's 25 percent Hispanic by 2025.

Merida announced the layoffs in a note to the newsroom. The Times said the newsroom positions being eliminated represent about 13 percent of the total. "Full-time and temporary workers will be let go, including a handful of managers. Reporting positions are expected to be largely spared but the production staff will be scaled back. Nearly a third of the cuts come from news and copy editor ranks. Some photographers, audience engagement editors and audio producers will also be affected.”

Dania Maxwell tweeted "I was given a layoff notice at the Los Angeles Times. I’ve given my heart and soul to the company. I’ve given nights and weekends away from home for the work. I’ve given a lot more than any 'job' so it feels pretty dark. @latguild

"The photo department was hit hard. It lost several photographers and editors. I’m one of two Spanish speakers that are being laid off. In a city where the most common language spoken other than English is Spanish, it speaks volumes about how the company will cover its own city." Later Thursday, after an unidentified manager volunteered to leave, one of the Spanish-speaking photographers was reinstated.

More than 300 Guild members, including many well-known Times journalists, signed a blistering "open letter" stating, “the company has blindsided us with proposed layoffs — which we will begin bargaining over today — and Kevin Merida and newsroom leadership initially only planned to speak with us on Monday, five long days after announcing their intention to upend many of our lives. This is deeply insulting.

"We would have been willing to discuss alternatives to layoffs had your representatives at the bargaining table broached the issue at any point in the last nine months. In fact, the Guild has a track record of finding solutions to newsroom budget problems. In the depths of the pandemic financial crisis in 2020, Guild leadership proposed an innovative work-sharing plan to Times management that averted 84 newsroom layoffs. Instead, the company surprised us with this proposed layoff. We deserve better. The livelihoods of dozens of our colleagues are now on the line. Nothing could be more important for our day-to-day well-being and our professional futures at The Times.
Your handling of this proposed layoff sends a clear message to the newsroom: You don’t care about the contract, and you don’t care about us. . . .

In the initial Times story, Times spokeswoman Hillary Manning disputed the union's characterization, saying the labor agreement gives management the discretion to proceed with layoff notices before offering voluntary buyouts."

During the Zoom meeting, Merida said, "We’ve been evaluating the budget, in real time, since the beginning of the year, and trying to create savings, trying to do things to prevent what is happening now. It's on management to make that difficult decision. I want to own the toughness of that, and [not] put that on anybody else," James wrote.

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