Are the LA Times layoffs indicative of a bigger problem in media?

The newspaper could be the latest in what will be a continuing trend of culling at media companies

Photo composite of the LA Times HQ, a paperboy and protestors
"An increasingly large percentage of Americans have come to prefer ultra-biased, sensationalist media outlets to impartial, informative newspapers"
(Image credit: Illustrated / Getty Images)

The media landscape is ever-changing, and recently, numerous outlets have seen their newsrooms shrink. Perhaps no company had it as bad, though, as the Los Angeles Times. The West Coast's preeminent newspaper announced Tuesday that it was laying off 115 editorial staffers, or more than 20% of its total newsroom. 

While this mostly affected the Times' Los Angeles headquarters, a number of its bureaus were hit hard as well. The newspaper's politics team in Washington, D.C., was "decimated" and now reportedly consists of just five reporters. There were also large cuts made to the outlet's business and sports desks, CNN reported. The layoffs come months after the Times first laid off 13% of its workforce, citing monetary concerns. In all, this means that around a third of the newsroom has been cut in less than a year. 

There are a variety of reasons for the Times' recent foibles, including numerous financial issues that have plagued the paper. Many have also blamed poor direction from the Times' billionaire owner, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong. But is the culling of the Los Angeles Times a problem caused by its own mismanagement, or is it indicative of a problem in the media industry that is going to continue?

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What did the commentators say?

The layoffs at the Los Angeles Times are "particularly brutal for a newspaper this size ... but we've seen this story to some way before," media correspondent David Folkenflik told NPR. He noted that The Washington Post — another brand owned by a billionaire, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — also went through recent layoffs. This "tells you that simply having passels of money doesn't mean that that's financially viable for the organizations themselves even if one can take issue with the way in which these cuts were handled," Folkenflik added. 

Owners were trying to make money for their news outlets while they should have been trying to secure paying subscribers, Folkenflik said. This "really undermined legacy media, particularly print publishers like magazines and newspapers," causing the advertising business to collapse and leading to a "media recession."

The Times layoffs are an example of its owner "trying to reverse the paper's fortunes by cutting their way to profitability," Jim Newton, a former Times staffer, told The Washington Post. This has led to the "steady diminishment of the paper's range and ambition," Newton added. 

The Times "was really only hanging on due to the 'fickle billionaire patronage' model, so these events are not exactly surprising," Jack Crosbie wrote for the Discourse Blog Substack. While some institutions may survive, "the idea of an organized institution where a group of journalists all collaboratively publish under one masthead" is disappearing, he added. 

The issues at the Times — and other outlets — stem from an "ominous trend: An increasingly large percentage of Americans have come to prefer ultra-biased, sensationalist media outlets to impartial, informative newspapers," Gary Dolgin wrote in a letter to the editor in the Times. The "downward spiral of print journalism parallels — and even accelerates — the disheartening erosion of our nation's venerable democratic norms and traditions," Dolgin added. 

What next? 

There might be a saving grace on the horizon for the Times — and the news industry in general. A proposed bill in California last year would tax large companies like Google and Facebook on news advertising, in turn driving salaries for newsroom employees. While the bill in question refers to California-based outlets, there have been pushes to pass federal legislation as well. 

The bill has the backing of the Times and could be a jumping-off point for newsrooms to come back from the dead. But while the efforts to help local news outlets "have garnered bipartisan support, they've also won opposition from lawmakers from both parties who have been personally upset" by news coverage of their doings, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. 

While it may be an uphill battle, this type of legislation has been seen before overseas. A 2021 law passed in Australia made Google and Facebook negotiate news content contracts with media outlets. A report released by the Australian government a year later deemed the law a success, finding that it had "enabled news businesses to, in particular, employ additional journalists and make other valuable investments to assist their operations," per Reuters

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