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Fallout At The 'Los Angeles Times' After Report Of Publisher's 'Frat House' Behavior

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For the first time in history, journalists at the Los Angeles Times are union members. They have voted overwhelmingly to join a union. That's after years of deep cuts and repeated changes in ownership. This news comes one day after an NPR expose about the LA Times publisher and CEO, Ross Levinsohn, showed a pattern of misconduct in the workplace there, especially towards women. NPR's David Folkenflik broke that story. And he joins us again now from our studios in New York. Hey, David. You've been busy.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Busy times is packed - especially when you think about the LA Times.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, tell us about the factors that led to this vote today, this vote to unionize.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the vote was tallied and publicly announced today. It was actually taken earlier this month. And I think it was, I would say, a legacy of years of cuts, of wild shifts and, I would say, ineffectiveness and often disastrous policies taken by various ownerships over the years, but also distrust of the parent company Tronc and particularly the leadership of this newspaper right now. Ross Levinsohn, the publisher, we'll talk about more in a moment. Lewis D'Vorkin, the editor in chief. I want to say to be clear, the conduct questions against Ross Levinsohn have to do with his prior jobs. But right now, even prior to what we reported yesterday, the real reservations about whether they were doing things simply for the investors and for the leaders themselves, their own pocketing cash, or they're doing it in the best interest of the newspaper and the journalism they could provide.

KELLY: Well, we know a little bit about how unionizing impacts a newsroom here at NPR. But how is it expected to change relations between employees and management at the LA Times?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, management fought this hard - put out a lot of information, tried to discourage people from voting in favor. It passed wildly overwhelmingly. It allows, essentially, you know, formally, employees to collectively bargain in favor of raises, in favor of trying to hold certain health care policies. They lost a lot of vacation days in recent years. There are a lot of things where they say their quality of their compensation, their benefits, have really been severely eroded. You know, the old ownership used to really philosophically oppose unions, but they also used to pay very handsomely in order to keep them out. That's really changed in the last couple ownerships of that paper.

KELLY: OK. Let me circle you back now to Ross Levinsohn. We know that the paper's parent company is saying it's going to conduct an internal investigation. There is also news now that he has been placed on unpaid leave. Is your sense that he will survive these allegations of misconduct that you've unearthed?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, we're going to see. You know, he's clearly lost the newsroom. About half of it have signed statements to Tronc's corporate board effectively calling for him to go, including most of the newspapers at Brains Trust and its senior editing ranks. It seems very hard that he could be sustained, unless he were fully exonerated from allegations, including ones that he made, essentially, in sworn testimony - acknowledgements of ways he had behaved in the workplace that a lot of women who worked for him found deeply offensive and problematic. So it's hard to see how he's able to continue to lead, particularly at a time the LA Times is covering these issues in other institutions across the country.

KELLY: Well, and as you report on the newsroom, what are you learning about how the turmoil at the top is affecting the newspaper, the newsroom, the journalists who are still there on deadline trying to get their job done?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, its - for a lot of journalists there, this is a great day in the sense of the unionization. But it has been paralyzing for recent months to figure out for them how they're going to cover things, their priorities there. And additionally, the editor in chief that Levinsohn installed, Lewis D'Vorkin, has a fairly radical reenvisioning of what kinds of content and products, as they call it, will be put out to their audiences that...

KELLY: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: ...Deemphasizes journalism. You know, if Levinsohn is knocked off, it really would seemingly undermine that vision and that plan that's been put forward in recent weeks.

KELLY: All right. Thanks so much, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

KELLY: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.