Those few stalwarts left in the Los Angeles bureau of the New York Times won’t be bouncing around a half-empty newsroom forever. But for the moment, that’s about as much as the Times executive editor Dean Baquet will tell about his plans for re-staffing an office that was hit particularly hard by the recent buyout and other changes.
In all, three of eight Los Angeles staffers — myself, the biotech business reporter Andrew Pollack and the photographer Monica Almeida — took the buyout, while another reporter, Ian Lovett, jumped to the Wall Street Journal. (About 80 of 1,300 staff members, including about 25 reporters, accepted the buyout offer.)
Things are further complicated by a plan under which the Los Angeles bureau chief, Adam Nagourney, will take a book leave in 2018. Nagourney will be writing for Penguin Random House’s Tim Duggan imprint about one of the New York Times’ favorite subjects, the New York Times.
That leaves Brooks Barnes covering Hollywood, Jennifer Medina writing for the National staff, and Manohla Dargis reviewing films. As Dargis rarely appears in the bureau, and Nagourney is often on the road, there is no shortage of available desks in the Times’ mid-Wilshire office, which was designed to accommodate at least 13. It has never been full, but never quite this empty.
Asked about his plans on Wednesday, Baquet, the Times executive editor, promised fresh faces, and, possibly, growth. “What I will say is that we plan on increasing our presence in Los Angeles,” he said in an email.
“By this time next year, my goal is to have more people there than we do now,” Baquet added.
Precise arithmetic is difficult; Pollack hasn’t yet left, but will go shortly, so it’s hard to tell whether Baquet is counting him among those still in place. But, having once been editor of the Los Angeles Times, Baquet clearly has an eye on Los Angeles, and doesn’t mean to see it become a backwater.
One option might have been to broaden the Hollywood coverage with a Culture desk reporter. Brooks and I both reported to the Media desk, which in turn belonged to Business, so the institutional politics got complicated. But a recent internal job posting by the Business desk seems to keep the job in its ambit.
“It’s fertile ground for rich, compelling stories from the place where entertainment, business, technology and cultural shifts converge,” the posting promises. “If that appeals to you, the media team is looking for a reporter to join Brooks Barnes in covering the world of Hollywood and its many angles—getting inside the studios and the moguls who run them, examining an awards process reeling from attacks on its entrenched culture, following the trails of money behind the products on screen.”
Another possibility might be to let Nagourney return to New York before starting his book leave, clearing the way for a new bureau chief. At one point this year, an internal whisper had Sheryl Gay Stolberg, the Times Mid-Atlantic bureau chief, and a former Los Angeles Times reporter, looking at the job. But internal whispers are as common the first-person singular at today’s Times, and usually worth as much.
In fact, the Times’s “audience development” team—an increasingly powerful group that monitors viewing patterns—has lately been pushing for some sort of build-up in Los Angeles. This summer, the team oversaw a brief newsletter experiment that found Lovett, now gone, compiling a daily tip and aggregation blast from around the state.
The numbers were said to be good; but it may take more than a daily newsletter to cure a troubling soft spot in the Times’ performance on the West Coast. Every month, the Times attracts about as many readers to its various free platforms—via Facebook, phones, or unpaid site visits—in California as in New York, its two largest markets. But a much bigger share of New Yorkers than Californians eventually become paid subscribers.
To grab those California readers will likely take more than two or three intrepid reporters in a bureau stacked with old mail, broken equipment and the forgotten files of those who moved on.