In a major shake-up of its editorial pages, the Los Angeles Times announced Thursday that it was discontinuing one of its most liberal columnists as well as its conservative editorial cartoonist.
Editorial Page Editor Andres Martinez said that Robert Scheer, a Times reporter for 17 years before he began writing a column on the Op-Ed pages in 1993, will be dropped. Cartoonist Michael Ramirez, The Times' cartoonist since 1997, will leave the paper at the end of the year and will not be replaced.
Martinez, who was recently appointed to his position, said the Op-Ed page will rely more on commissioned artwork and illustrations, as well as stand-alone graphics.
"The opinion pages are the newspaper's town square," he said in a statement. "Our readers expect us to publish all points of view and the broadest range of opinion -- from those of our editorial board and columnists to those of our readers and Op-Ed contributors. And we intend to do exactly that."
Times Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson framed the changes as: "You've got a new editorial page editor and a new publisher. We sat down and talked about the pages and decided to make the changes."
Under a new organizational structure announced in July, Martinez reports to Johnson rather than to the editor of the paper.
Scheer and Ramirez said Thursday that they believed their strong political stances played a role in their dismissals.
Scheer said he thought The Times had grown tired of his liberal politics. "I've been a punching bag for Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh for years and I think the paper finally collapsed," he said. He said he and Ramirez "both had strong opinions and [I think] the owners think they can improve circulation by making the paper bland and safer."
Ramirez, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994, said: "I can't help but think it's also a philosophical parting of ways." He said he also believed his removal was partly due to budgetary concerns, as well as a desire to change the look of the editorial pages.
Ramirez's departure leaves The Times without a permanent staff editorial cartoonist. (Ramirez's predecessor, Paul Conrad, won three Pulitzer Prizes, two of them at The Times).
"You have a newspaper that has such a grand tradition of editorial cartooning," Ramirez said. "I think it makes a lesser product and I think the readers lose."
J.P. Trostle, editor of the book "Attack of the Political Cartoonists," wrote last year in Harvard University's Nieman Reports that editorial cartoon jobs at newspapers are "increasingly left unfilled or are eliminated entirely after a cartoonist leaves a paper." The number of full-time cartoonists at newspapers has shrunk to fewer than 90, down from nearly 200 in the early 1980s, Trostle wrote.
In recent years, the Chicago Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and others have laid off editorial cartoonists or left the positions unfilled.
As part of the revisions, columnists Michael McGough and David Gelernter will also be dropped.
"I think we've put together a smart, original and provocative team of writers who reflect a variety of interesting and thoughtful perspectives on local, national and foreign affairs," said Times Op-Ed Editor Nicholas Goldberg. "A good column involves a relationship developed with readers over time, and I invite our readers to develop their relationships with these engaging minds in the weeks and months to come.
"I don't think these changes are going to move the page to the left or the right."
The new lineup includes new columnists and ones already appearing in the newspaper. They are: Max Boot, the Olin Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations; Rosa Brooks, a University of Virginia Law School professor; Jonathan Chait, a senior editor of the New Republic; Meghan Daum, whose commentaries often appear on National Public Radio; Niall Ferguson, a professor of history at Harvard University; Jonah Goldberg, a contributing editor to the National Review and founding editor of the National Review Online; Erin Aubry Kaplan, a writer for the L.A. Weekly; Patt Morrison, a longtime columnist for The Times; Gregory Rodriguez, a Los Angeles-based Irvine Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.; and Joel Stein, who has written a Hollywood-themed column since earlier this year.
Ramirez said he was proud of his record of political cartoons at The Times, crediting the paper with "running cartoons that were so different than the philosophy of the editorial page."
Ramirez's cartoons will continue to appear in The Times through December. After that, he said, his cartoons will continue to be syndicated by Copley News Service, which has distributed them since 1988.