The Los Angeles Times has tapped veteran newspaper editor Jim Kirk as its new editor-in-chief. The move spelled the end of a rocky four-month tenure for Kirk’s predecessor, Lewis D’Vorkin, who will become chief content officer at Tronc, the newspaper's parent company.
The L.A.Times has been embroiled in controversy the past month. The paper’s publisher, Ross Levinsohn, was put on unpaid leave amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Rumors are swirling that Tronc is creating a contributor contributor network comprised of non-employees as a way to thwart the unionization drive by L.A. Times newsroom staffers.
Jim Kirk joined Larry Mantle on AirTalk to talk about the surprise shakeup and future of the iconic newspaper.
L.A. Times’ publisher Ross Levinsohn is on leave while an outside law firm investigates, which follows an NPR report alleging a frat house environment created in previous work settings. This included allegations of sexual harassment. Who are you reporting to while Levinsohn is gone?
Jim Kirk: I'm currently reporting [daily] to Tim Knight, who is president of [the Times'] parent company, Tronc, in Chicago.
Any word on when Levinsohn would return if the investigation clears him?
Kirk: The investigation is ongoing so obviously, it would be premature for me to comment on anything before it's finished.
One of the big concerns we've heard from Times staff members was about business editor Kimi Yoshino being escorted out of the building. There had been rumors, that perhaps management thought she had been talking to journalists at other news organizations about what was going on at the Times. What can you share about whether she'll be returning, and what went on with that incident?
Kirk: I just got a full briefing of that over the past couple of days and I'm not going to go into the details of a personnel issue. But I have been in contact with Kimi and both expressed my desire that she returns to our staff and continues running the business staff. Those discussions are ongoing.
What about concerns that news executives have been hired to create an independent newsroom as part of Tronc, which would report to the business side of the parent company? That newsroom would, through working so-called "verticals," or different specialty beats, provide content to all of the Tronc-owned newspapers including the Times. What can you tell us about that strategy and the staffing of that newsroom?
Kirk: There have been some misperceptions about what might be in the works in different parts of the company. As I told the staff, we do have a collection of 10 great news operations around the country, and the business model of just operating 10 separate local entities just doesn't work in this day and age.
And there has to be a way to leverage the scale and the audience across all those markets. That is the key to our success and financial success going forward. To the extent that we can develop products that provide more content outside of what we currently are doing, and that's key...is essential to our future. And I think that's where the development of some of these new products is going to focus on.
What is your response to concerns in the Times newsroom, that this independent newsroom might mean content that's tied to the business side of the paper? Meaning it’s without an editorial firewall, would have unpaid contributors such as what former editor-in-chief Lewis D'Vorkin cultivated at Forbes, and that in some way that dilutes either the Times' content or takes union positions from the Times newsroom?
Kirk: There will be no positions taken from the newsroom to staff a non-unionized newsroom. That is just not going to happen. In terms of content, I'm not privy to all of what is being developed on that side of the business. I think we'll hear some more details about that over the next few days, but I'm confident that what may or may not appear on local news sites across the company will be up to the standards of all of our collective entities.
Long-time L.A. Times reporter, editor and columnist Jim Newton was with us yesterday. According to Newton, some of the Times staffers felt that previously, as interim editor-in-chief, you pushed too hard against the unionizing effort there. Are you intending to appeal to those employees who might have been offended by the approach you took during the union organizing effort?
Kirk: My talk with the newsroom yesterday was the first thing I [discussed] to try to bring management and the newsroom together after what might be considered a little bit of aggressive back and forth, as both sides try to convey why they thought there should be a union, or why management thought there shouldn't be a union.
But now that we are heading toward a contract, the time has come to heal and come together, and we have to focus on the work, and that was my message. I think it was well-received, as far as I can tell, for the most part. It's true, we have to work together.
We can do that in a newsroom that is unionized. It's probably gonna take a long time, or at least a while before we get settled on a contract here, but we're gonna work hard to do that, and hopefully it will benefit both sides.
This story has been updated.
Jim Kirk, newly named editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Times; he tweets @kirkjim12