MONDAY AM: Here’s the memo sent to his Los Angeles Times staff from Managing Editor for Features John Montorio who doesn’t hide the fact that he was fired.

These last seven years have been among the most rewarding of my life. Together, we have renewed and reshaped The Times’ Features report into one worthy of a great newspaper and its readers. Today, page for page, our entertainment, cultural and life-style journalism stands up to that at any American newspaper. I’d hoped we’d be working together to extend that excellence into this new era. However, Russ has decided to take the Features department in a different direction, with a new leader, and I will officially leave The Times at the end of this month. I wish it were possible to personally thank each and every one of you individually, because our collective success truly is the sum of your individual contributions. You are as talented and devoted a staff as exists anywhere and our collaboration will remain one of my life’s great pleasures. I don’t know who your next editor will be. I do know that if they take half the pride in their association with you that I have, they will be fortunate beyond measure.

Here’s what I reported over the weekend:

montorio.jpgI’m hearing that the Los Angeles Times’ managing editor for features, culture and entertainment John Montorio could be headed for the chopping block. After all, he’s wildly unpopular inside the paper because of his penchant for secrecy, closed doors, rarely talking to the reporters who work for him, and overall arrogance.

(One tipster told me Friday Montorio may already have been axed by just appointed editor Russ Stanton, formerly the paper’s Innovation Editor. But I can’t get a confirmation or denial. Word is they butted heads while Stanton oversaw the digital news report and integrated the LAT newsroom with the Web operation. According to my tipster, “the new editor walked in and said he didn’t like him.”)

Still Montorio’s firing would come as a surprise since he was just promoted in July to be managing editor of features. logo_latimes.gif(In the announcement of his promotion back then, the 59-year-old Montorio was described by the newspaper as  “one of the nation’s most accomplished features editors.”) Then again, as the fourth person to hold the LAT‘s top editor’s position since 2005, Stanton may be moving quickly to put his own stamp on the place. And, if he has the balls to kick Montorio to the curb, I say, Hooray!

Montorio spent 15 years at The New York Times and helped launch many of the NYT signature features sections, including The City and Sunday Styles, before joining the LAT in 2001 at the behest of Dean Baquet. Montorio tried to make several clones of those NYT feature sections at the LAT but wasn’t anywhere as successful: those that died demonstrated that the LAT can’t draw the necessary advertising. He oversaw an overhaul of the LAT magazine that also flopped. Most recently, Montorio launched Image, a fashion and style section. But it’s generally considered that the LAT movie and TV news coverage has suffered greatly over Montorio’s oversight, and the paper was consistently beat on nearly every development in the recent writers strike. Worse, his departments’ articles are just bland and dull.

losangelestimesbuilding_2.jpgMontorio also was responsible for abruptly axing Al Martinez’s Calendar column and pushing him to take a buyout, thus sparking one of the biggest stinks in the newspaper’s recent history. The reader outcry was so intense that the paper had to apologize and bring Martinez back more prominently in the California section. Montorio also made news when he killed a column by LAT Hollywood columnist Patrick Goldstein, one of the paper’s most popular and well-read writers. Goldstein almost left the paper for another job as a result until Montorio backed off and declared a truce.

Still another contretemps occurred last year when the LAT was embarrassed over its Pulitzer nominations for the criticism category. Montorio submitted music critic Ann Powers, architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, and media writer Tim Rutten. But two LAT critics whom Montorio overlooked, art critic Christopher Knight and classical music critic Mark Swed, nominated themselves and then made it into the finals.

I’ve heard many stories about Montorio and his morale-killing ways. It’s how Montorio keeps his door continuously closed and his office all but off-limits to the staff. Or refuses to speak face to face with his reporters and does everything by impersonal email. Or maintains an insufferable “I see you but I don’t have to talk to you” attitude with which he treats everyone who reports to him with the exception of a few pet editors.