It’s been a hectic 24 hours at the Los Angeles Times.
The news outlet is now officially a union paper, and its publisher might be on the way out after a lurid report of sexual harassment and misconduct while with prior companies.
A ballot tally conducted Jan. 19 by the National Labor Relations Board showed Los Angeles Times’ journalists voted 248 to 44 to form a union. The vote marks the first newsroom union in the paper’s 136-year history.
Hours after the vote, Times’ parent company tronc Inc. said Ross Levinsohn, the paper’s publisher, would take an unpaid voluntary leave of absence.
“As of this morning, Ross Levinsohn has voluntrarily (sic) agreed to take an unpaid leave of absence, effective immediately,” said tronc Chief Executive Justin Dearborn in a memo to staff.
Times’ President Mickey Rosen, who Levinsohn brought on in October and who previously worked with him at several other companies, will take the reigns on an interim basis, Dearborn said.
The leadership shakeup came a day after National Public Radio published a report detailing allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment at workplaces the now-Times publisher previously oversaw. Levinsohn was allegedly a defendant in two sexual harassment lawsuits and used a gay slur at a Hollywood event while an executive at other companies, according to the NPR report.
180 newsroom employees signed a letter calling for Levinsohn’s immediate ouster after the report broke.
Many of those staffers also were part of the union campaign, which the Los Angeles Times Guild spearheaded. The campaign was launched publicly in October, with some journalists at the paper claiming the newsroom had lost faith in the leadership of the management at both the Times and Chicago-based tronc. Staffers cast ballots in an election that began Jan. 4.
Times Guild organizing committee member and 30-year L.A. Times newsroom veteran Bettina Boxall said after the vote that it was time for journalists to have a formal spot at the bargaining table.
“It’s truly historic and quite overdue,” Boxall said. “We’ve finally reached a point where the newsroom has a voice. It took 136-years to get to this point, but it’s absolutely clear that we’re a newsroom that’s tired of being quiet.”
L.A. Times spokeswoman Hillary Manning said in a statement that the company would recognize the union.
“We respect the outcome of the election and look forward to productive conversations with union leadership as we move forward,” the statement reads. “We remain committed to ensuring that the Los Angeles Times is a leading source for news and information and to producing the award-winning journalism our readers rely on.”
Boxall said leadership at the paper and tronc’s overall vision was “lacking.”
“They’ve lurched from one absurd strategy to another over the past several years, none of which has worked or will work,” she said. “And it’s clear what will work: paying for good quality journalism.”
The Times’ newsroom headcount is now below 400 from a high of more than 1,000, according to Guild members.
Tronc also owns several other papers, including Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Baltimore Sun and the San Diego Union-Tribune. The company’s overall print ad revenue was down 17 percent during the first nine months of 2017 and digital ad sales were down 6 percent, according to public filings. The company’s overall nine-month trailing revenue was down to $1.1 billion from $1.2 billion over the same period in 2016.
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