Widespread Furloughs and Pay Cuts at the Los Angeles Times

Another bleak day for newspapers.
Another bleak day for newspapers. / Leon Neal/Getty Images

A letter sent to 40 Los Angeles Times employees portends very bad things for the future due to coronavirus-related concerns. The New York Times' Marc Tracy reports:

A 16-week furlough translates to over a 30 percent reduction in pay. And that's the best-case scenario here.

Seeing advertising revenue drop of a cliff is not unique to the newspaper. Outlets everywhere are trying to figure out how to operate on budgets that were already stretched paper-thin before the global pandemic. It's probably unfair to expect business as usual to plug along considering the climate, but in this case, there's a particularly tough-to-ignore aspect of the equation.

This letter comes less than two months after the paper offered voluntary buyouts in an attempt to right things financially. At the time, Anthony Pesce, president of the LA Times Guild, revealed that they were told they were not a sign of forced reductions ahead.

“Management has told the newsroom that the buyouts are not a precursor to involuntary layoffs,” he said. “Because buyouts can be an unfortunate reality of our industry, we bargained to ensure a fair, standardized process with a competitive severance package. The Guild will watch for any further developments and work to protect the future of the LA Times and its journalists.”

The Guild responded minutes ago with the following statement on the non-union measures:

The elephant in the room through all of this is that the current owner of the Times, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, is reportedly worth north of $19 billion. He paid $500 million in 2017 to purchase the paper along with the San Diego Union Tribune.

It's always tricky for working journalists to imagine themselves in a multibillionaire's shoes, yet when they do, they tend to think they'd be the one bearing the financial burden instead of the rank-and-file workers. That thought experiment doesn't usually play out in real life and we've seen deep-pocketed investors choose a different path over and over again. So sadly, no big surprise.