LA Times editor forced to leave in middle of election night coverage

The American editor who said no, and refused to fire any more of his editorial staff, has himself now been fired. Dean Baquet has been dismissed as editor of The Los Angeles Times, the fourth largest paper in the US.

It's another notch in the belt-tightening ordered by The Tribune Co of Chicago, which owns the LA Times, and an example of the pressures facing many editors in the United States.

Baquet, who is in his early fifties, started as a police reporter in New Orleans, worked for a time for the NY Times. He was appointed editor of the LA Times 18 months ago after a spell as managing editor.

He was a popular editor – especially since he championed the cause of the news staff who the paper's parent company wanted to lay off. Under his editorship, the paper won two Pulitzer Prizes.

Howeve,r a speech he made at the Associated Press Managing Editors' conference in New Orleans last month is said to have upset his employers. He called on editors to resist cutbacks in news staff — which was not very helpful, one of his fellow executives suggested.

Staff at the LA Times were not happy at the news of his firing. One staff member, who said he had been with the paper for over 28 years, said: "The fact the paper is not making enough money is not the reason to get rid of an editor."

The LA Times is one of the big American papers that has been steadily losing circulation. It is now down to 775,000 a day — compared with 1.2m in 1990.

As a result, there has been increasing pressure from management —and stockholders — to cut costs, even though the title remains modestly profitable.

The news of the dismissal of the editor caught most of the staff of the LAT off guard and threw the paper into turmoil. It came right in the middle of the mid-term election night, as results were just coming. When the deposed editor appeared in the news oom and announced he was leaving, he was given a standing ovation.

Whether other top executives on the paper will quit in protest is not yet certain. Some have said they are angry but will hang on. There has been a call for local subscribers to cancel their subscriptions to the paper.

The Tribune Company, under pressure from investors, is said to be considering selling some of its assets. It has already sold its company jet. It is believed there are at least two major investors — including multimillionaire Los Angeles entertainment mogul David Geffen — interested in the LA Times.

In which case, the hope in the newsroom is that if anyone buys the paper they will rehire Dean Baquet as editor.

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