Market turbulence | Los Angeles Times faces backlash after laying off over 100 staff in HR Zoom session

Los Angeles Times faces backlash after laying off over 100 staff in HR Zoom session

The Los Angeles Times, a renowned 142-year-old newspaper with one of the largest print circulations in the US, has faced widespread criticism and backlash after laying off 115 staff members, including journalists and editors.

The move, which represents more than 20% of the newsroom, comes amid financial struggles and leadership changes, raising concerns about the impact on diversity and democracy in a crucial election year.

Disproportionate impact on minority workers

The layoffs have disproportionately affected young journalists of color, with many Black, Asian American, and Latino staffers losing their jobs. This is despite the newspaper's public commitment in 2020 to diversity in its staff, acknowledging that its workforce "has never truly reflected the region."

Among the laid-off journalists was one of the paper's only Indigenous editors, adding to the concerns about the loss of diverse voices. Additionally, those working on the newly launched De Los section, designed for and by Latinos, were affected. Latinos make up roughly half of Los Angeles County's population, and their historical underrepresentation in the newsroom raises questions about the newspaper's commitment to reflecting the community it serves.

The vast majority of the layoffs affected those within the Media Guild of the West union, with President Matt Pearce stating on X that 94 union members had been notified on Wednesday that they were being laid off, about a quarter of the union’s membership

Last week, members staged a daylong walkout, representing the newsroom's journalists to highlight the frustration and concern among employees over looming layoffs.

‘Chaotic process’ and lack of communication

Criticism has been directed towards the management's handling of the layoffs, with reports stating that employees were laid off in a HR Zoom webinar, where the ability to write in a chat was disabled, and there was no opportunity for questions or answers.

The chaotic and poorly-managed process has been condemned by both the affected journalists and those who retained their positions, further fueling discontent within the newsroom.

Union's response

The Media Guild of the West, representing the Times' unionized journalists, believes that their decision to go on strike helped save scores of newsroom jobs. Pearce suggested that voluntary buyouts, similar to those conducted by other media outlets like the Washington Post, could have mitigated the impact, especially on younger staff members who are more likely to be laid off.

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Management's explanation

The Times' management, including its billionaire owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, cited the challenging economic reality of the organization, emphasizing the need for immediate steps to improve cash position.

Despite investing "hundreds of millions of dollars" over the past five years, Soon-Shiong acknowledged the paper's yearly losses and the insufficient progress in growing readership and advertising revenue. The management has not yet revealed a detailed plan for moving forward.

The LA Times layoffs contribute to a wider trend in the US media industry, with other billionaire-owned publications, including Time Magazine, Vice Media and The Washington Post also implementing significant staff reductions. However, whilst redundancies are part and parcel of the turbulent media landscape, criticism of the Times has highlighted the allegedly poor practices in this case, and the effect that it has on those within minority demographics.

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