Hundreds of staffers at the Los Angeles Times walked off the job on Friday to protest an anticipated round of layoffs that could reduce the staff by as much as 20 percent - likely gutting crucial areas of coverage, some fear.
The company told employees on Thursday to “anticipate” layoffs due to budgetary concerns. Neither management nor the L.A. Times Guild, the union representing journalists, will say exactly how many employees will be laid off, while labor negotiations continue in confidentiality. But the union has cast the upcoming cuts as “major,” and it’s widely believed they will affect more than 100 people in the newsroom.
The day-long walkout - coming just over a week after top editor Kevin Merida resigned amid disputes with the paper’s owner - is the first work stoppage in the publication’s 142-year history. As politicians such as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) cheered them on, Times staffers took to social media to post explanations for why it was necessary.
Outside the Times Washington bureau in downtown D.C., several staffers braved snowy conditions to hold signs.
“I’ve been here for more than 30 years, and I’ve seen the L.A. Times go through bad and good times, up and down, up and down” said staff writer Tracy Wilkinson. “And this seems like a really down moment. And it’s sad.”
Staff writer Noah Bierman said his job is the best he’s ever had. “I feel like we are bringing people really quality journalism. But we know, just being in the field, that there’s always this possibility that sword of Damocles will come.”
The staffers expressed hope that Friday’s walkout could lead the company to take a more “humane and thoughtful” approach to cost-cutting, as Bierman put it.
A much larger protest was held at a park in Los Angeles, where staffers chanted while holding signs with slogans like “Don’t cut our future.”
Staffers who participated in the work stoppage, which Guild unit chair Brian Contreras said was observed by about 90 percent of membership, forfeited their salary for the day - and many found that their access to the company’s email and internal message systems were cut off.
As part of the walkout, the newspaper’s staffers asked readers not to visit the Times’ website or open its news alerts.
Union members say they are also frustrated by a management proposal to gut protections for veteran employees in exchange for saving some positions and replacing some layoffs with buyout offers - “an impossible decision” the union called it in rejecting it. In exchange for giving management a freer hand in choosing who to lay off, management claimed it could save roughly 50 jobs total, according to the union.
“I understand that they think that payroll needs to come down, but the way they are trying to cut the paper will hurt it in the long term,” said Erin B. Logan, a Washington-based reporter who serves as co-chair of the Times Guild’s Black caucus. “It’s going to fundamentally change this newsroom and it’s not going to be sustainable.”
The cuts come as Patrick Soon-Shiong, a biotech billionaire who purchased the Times for $500 million in 2018, struggles to reduce the paper’s annual losses, which have been estimated to be as high as $50 million a year. While the Times cut 74 newsroom jobs last summer, these new cuts are needed to reduce the company’s operating budget, Times spokesperson Hillary Manning said.
“The hardest decisions to make are those that impact our employees, and we do not come to any such decisions lightly,” she said. “We are continuing to review the revenue projections for this year and taking a very careful look at expenses and what our organization can support.”
The Times currently employs roughly 500 journalists and more than 1,000 people total, according to Manning.
It’s not clear when layoffs would begin. The Guild has demanded that management tell them how many people will be affected and to explain who is making the decisions. The union has also pushed for employees to be offered buyouts in lieu of involuntary cuts.
“We’re trying to do our jobs, but obviously all of this is distracting,” Wilkinson said.
Fear of the impending layoffs has only ratcheted up the turmoil at the Times following Merida’s exit last week. Merida, a former managing editor at The Washington Post, left the Times’ executive job after three years after clashing with Soon-Shiong and the owner’s family over a host of issues. Those disputes included Merida’s decision to temporarily restrict journalists who signed a letter calling for media outlets to call the Israel-Gaza war a “genocide” from covering the war themselves.
“He is an undeniable gem in this industry and people were very sad about his departure,” Logan said, mentioning that even those who were upset about his handling of the Gaza letter shared in the concern.
The new Times layoffs reflect a broader trend of budget cuts across journalism, as media outlets face a sagging ad market and struggle to retain subscribers. In December, The Post lost 240 employees through buyouts. More than 2,600 journalism jobs were cut across the industry in 2023, according to a study released last month.
Logan cast the cuts as damaging both to the paper and to the city of Los Angeles. “I pray to God in heaven that Los Angeles is not an example of what happens to a major city when the heartbeat of democracy is gutted.”