Last week, The California Times, the owner of the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune and several community papers, made voluntary buyout offers to staff with two or more years of service, reports CNN. Billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong bought the newspapers in June 2018 from Tribune Publishing (previously called Tronc), returning the newspapers to local ownership. Employees were notified of the voluntary buyout offers via email.
CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter shared the news on Twitter. Here’s an excerpt from the employee email.
The California Times is offering voluntary buyout packages (an “Employee Voluntary Separation Plan”). Employees with more than two years of service are eligible to apply.
Since the transition to local ownership, we have invested more than $100 million in staff, technology and infrastructure, and as we continue our transformation of the Times, we shall continue to invest.
We are already working on deploying our resources strategically. We know that to build a sustainable business and ensure our ability to provide vital journalism for decades to come, we need to move swiftly to make our product more digital, more nimble, and more attractive to loyal and new audiences. Buyouts will help us accelerate the process.”
Hillary Manning, a Times spokesperson, told CNN, “This is one step of many as we further the transformation of the company. We are committed to investing in areas that strengthen our ability to compete, grow revenue and produce vital journalism in the public interest.”
Manning told Los Angeles Magazine, “More than $100 million has been invested in staff, technology, and infrastructure over the past 20 months. We believe that’s evident to anyone who’s read our papers, visited our websites, used our apps or, for that matter, visited our offices lately. The buyout offer is intended to give us a little more flexibility to create and hire new roles, and to give some staffers who are looking to make a change an opportunity to leave on their own terms.”
In January 2018, newsroom staff at the L.A. Times voted to unionize. In October 2019, the Times and the L.A. Times Guild signed a tentative three-year labor agreement. The union represents about 475 members of the newsroom. The agreement covers non-management newsroom employees, including reporters, columnists, data journalists, copy editors, librarians, web producers, audio producers, page designers, photographers and videographers.
“We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved together,” Carolina A. Miranda, co-chair of the L.A. Times Guild, said in a statement. “It’s a difficult time in the industry, but we’ve landed significant pay increases and a broad safety net of job protections that are some of the best in the industry. We’re grateful that Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is actively reinvesting in The Times. This is a win for journalism and a win for L.A.”
Following the news, L.A. Times Guild president Anthony Pesche called the buyout offers an “unfortunate reality” and that type of reality is one of the reasons the guild fought so hard for a labor agreement last fall.
As several media outlets pointed out, this isn’t a surprise. Dr. Soon-Shiong saved the L.A. Times from uncertainty by buying the newspaper in 2018, but he is a businessman first and foremost. He said the newspaper had to be run like a business, and it must be innovative to be successful in a digital media age. Like so many media outlets across the country, the Times has not pivoted or embraced the digital world as quickly as it needed to. By offering buyouts, the Times can take a financial hit now with the idea that they can afford to hire new, young, less expensive, digital-first employees to help the company transition to a digital-first focus.