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California and the West

Times Publisher Acts to Mend Rift

Jeffrey Johnson offers an olive branch to Tribune Co. but doesn't say he's altered his view on cuts.

September 21, 2006|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Times Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson issued a conciliatory statement Wednesday in an apparent attempt to smooth over a week-old fight with the newspaper's corporate parent.

In an e-mail message to Times employees, Johnson stressed common ground with Tribune Publishing President Scott C. Smith and a need to have the Los Angeles newspaper and the Chicago media conglomerate "working together" to improve the company's performance.

Less than a week earlier, Johnson and Times Editor Dean Baquet publicly balked at demands by Tribune that could lead to scores of job cuts in the Los Angeles paper's newsroom.

Johnson did not say in the memo that he was backing away from that position. But his statement appeared to offer an olive branch to his Chicago overseers -- a possible detente that some company insiders said was important to Tribune executives who did not want a fight with their biggest property clouding a meeting today of Tribune directors.

At that meeting, the company's 11-member board is expected to consider a plan to appease the California-based Chandler family, Tribune's biggest and most restive shareholder. The Chandlers have demanded a sale of television stations or even a breakup of the entire company, whose stock has fallen 42% since its six-year high in early 2004.

"This [statement] is really something they needed, to get through tomorrow's board meeting," said one Tribune executive, who asked not to be named because he had not been given permission to speak about the dispute. "They have much bigger issues to confront and they didn't want this overshadowing the board meeting."

The message from the Times publisher came a day after he was summoned to Chicago, where he met with Smith. "We affirmed our fundamental objectives to effectively serve readers, advertisers, our communities and shareholders," Johnson wrote.

The memo did not directly address the disagreement over cutting jobs from the 940-person editorial staff of The Times, although Johnson "reiterated our commitment to build a credible financial plan in the coming weeks that is grounded in actions and initiatives that efficiently build readership and revenue."

Executives at The Times said Johnson was acknowledging that, despite a seeming impasse last week, talks over newsroom staffing would continue. His memo also restated a conviction of the newspaper's leaders that The Times needed to do more than cut staff to assure its long-term future.

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james.rainey@latimes.com

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