Managing Editor Sara Yasin departs amid L.A. Times turmoil

Los Angeles Times Managing Editor Sara Yasin resigned Monday amid the turmoil gripping the newsroom in advance of deep staff cuts that are looming.

Yasin’s departure comes a little more than a week after Executive Editor Kevin Merida abruptly left, citing differences with the paper’s owner, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong. The owner has ordered extensive staff cuts to trim the tens of millions of dollars in losses that he and his family have absorbed since buying The Times nearly six years ago.

Another top editor, Shani Hilton, stepped down last week, bringing to three the number of top editors who have exited during a stormy period at The Times. Merida and Hilton were The Times’ two highest-ranking Black editors.

Yasin, in a note to staff members, cited “professional and personal decisions” for her decision to leave.

“The short version: I’d like to do something different,” Yasin wrote Monday. “I’ve spent the last several years as a newsroom leader, which has allowed me to put my management and problem-solving skills to use but I miss being closer to storytelling.”

Her exit comes as 10 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Soon-Shiong and Media Guild of the West President Matt Pearce, imploring the two sides to find less devastating ways to handle the staff cuts that could see the largest newsroom in the western U.S. shrink by more than 20%. The letter comes after a one-day strike on Friday by the newsroom union.

The Times has faced heavy financial losses as print subscribers dwindle and advertisers migrate to other online platforms to reach consumers. The Times lost about $40 million last year, according to knowledgeable sources who were not authorized to speak publicly.

A spokeswoman for The Times has not confirmed the extent of the losses covered by the Soon-Shiong family, instead saying the number was in the “tens of millions.”

“We are concerned about reports of potential layoffs facing the LA Times newsroom and the impact this will have on all Angelenos, the availability of essential news and the strength of our democracy at large,” wrote the California Democrats, including Reps. Jimmy Gomez of Los Angeles, Pete Aguilar of Redlands, Judy Chu of Monterey Park, Ted Lieu of Torrance, Robert Garcia of Long Beach and Adam B. Schiff of Burbank.

“As we approach upcoming elections, the role of news outlets in providing accurate and unbiased information becomes even more vital. Our community relies on the newspaper to stay informed about local and national events, and a reduction in reporters could have a detrimental impact on the quality of reporting,” the lawmakers wrote. “Preserving democracy is contingent upon a free and robust press, and the LA Times has been instrumental in upholding this democratic principle.”

In response, Soon-Shiong highlighted his efforts since 2018 to hire dozens of journalists and support staff to bolster the publication that has served California for 141 years.

“We’ve put hundreds of millions of dollars — approaching $1 billion — over the past five years into the L.A. Times, and we are committed to continuing to invest while we work to get the paper on a path to sustainability,” Soon-Shiong wrote.

“Much of our investment has gone toward newsgathering, in maintaining the newsroom staff, and in establishing a modernized infrastructure,” he wrote, underscoring that his family’s motivation has been “preserving a civic institution … in recognition of the essential role an independent press plays in a democracy.”

Lawmakers can also play an important role, Soon-Shiong noted.

He pointed to legislation, adopted by Canadian and Australian governments, that requires technology giants including Google and Facebook to pay news publishers when they distribute their news articles on their online platforms. Google and Facebook rake in billions of dollars in advertising revenue as the dollars to local outlets are vanishing.

But such legislation has stalled in Congress.

“I’d like to put the question to [lawmakers]: What can they do to help preserve a free and robust press, one that is instrumental in upholding our democracy?” Soon-Shiong wrote. “All we are asking for is the opportunity for our newspaper and hardworking journalists to be fairly compensated, and for the L.A. Times to have a fair chance to become a self-sustaining institution.”

Soon-Shiong has pledged to continue to invest in the paper and cover millions of dollars in losses that are projected for this year.

More than 350 staff members — or about 90% of the Guild-covered journalists — refused to work Friday to protest the pending cuts and management’s bid to relax job protections based on seniority. The newsroom has been bracing for more than 100 layoffs, or about 20% of the newsroom, since Merida’s departure.

Last week, the paper’s management approached the guild’s bargaining committee, seeking what managers described as one-time modifications to the union contract that protects more senior staff members from layoffs. Soon-Shiong and other managers wanted flexibility to pull from a pool of more veteran staffers rather than force out the most recent hires, many who are diverse. The proposal was rejected by the union, though the two sides are expected this week to discuss the situation.

The L.A. Times historically has struggled to diversify its staff to better reflect such a diverse region as California. A round of layoffs in the summer, which included dozens of journalists of color, was a setback to those efforts. The newsroom was cut by 13% then.

Hilton, who’d been at the paper for four years, told staff members last week that she had been planning to leave even before Merida’s departure. She oversaw L.A. Times Studios, which was hard hit by a round of layoffs in December.

Yasin joined The Times nearly two years ago. In her role as managing editor, she was the newsroom’s day-to-day manager.

Yasin previously served as managing editor of BuzzFeed News, where she worked to build new audiences for that outlet’s journalism. Buzzfeed News shuttered last year, as digital media outlets struggle to maintain audiences.

Yasin was one of the nation’s highest-ranking Palestinian American journalists.

She faced increased scrutiny as news organizations scrambled to respond to the contentious divide over how best to cover Israel’s bombing of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in the wake of the Oct. 7 cross-border attack by Hamas militants that killed at least 1,200 people and saw about 250 others taken as hostages, as well as the plight of people in Gaza, where more than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Like many outlets, the Los Angeles Times struggled internally with the issue. In late October, about three dozen journalists with The Times signed an open letter that bashed Israel for its treatment of Palestinians along with the heavy death toll of Palestinian journalists covering the war.

Yasin did not sign the letter but, in meetings among top editors she expressed empathy for the journalists who signed the letter.

Merida swiftly removed the staff members who signed the letter from the paper’s coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict, citing the paper’s ethics policy that forbids staffers to take a political stand.

Yasin supported Merida’s decision, which faced pushback from some staff members, community groups that support Palestinians and even members of the Soon-Shiong family.

Patrick Soon-Shiong later expressed disappointment with how the matter was handled, saying he wished that Merida had told him about the actions to remove the journalists from coverage in advance.

Yasin said her decision to leave was “completely unrelated” to the dispute over the letter.

She was raised in North Carolina, but some members of her extended family remain in the Middle East.

In her note, Yasin thanked Merida for bringing her to The Times.

“I’m grateful to Kevin for giving me this opportunity, and to all of you who welcomed me here and helped me adapt to this city and the L.A. Times,” Yasin wrote. “ It’s been an honor to be a part of a newsroom filled with so much talent and heart. I’ve learned so much and I know that no matter what I do next, my service at The Times will be an essential part of my career.”

Monday was her last day at the paper.

Two ranking editors at The Times — Julia Turner and Scott Kraft — will oversee the newsroom until an interim editor is named.

“Scott and I are now responsible for all editorial operations, and we’re advocating for editorial interests in conversations with the company about the financial crisis we face,” Turner wrote in a memo to the staff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *