LA Times publisher Ross Levinsohn cleared of wrongdoing, will become CEO of new Tronc unit

Meg James, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Levinsohn, 54, served as The Times' publisher for five months. He was the paper's 17th publisher and the fifth in the last decade.

His brief tenure at The Times was met with turmoil and rising suspicions in the newsroom. Staffers were spooked by his efforts to assemble a new team of reporters and producers that would be separate from the newsroom. Levinsohn unveiled his controversial plan to use contributors to churn out content for Tronc's digital platforms a day before he was placed on unpaid leave.

The Jan. 18 NPR report heightened tensions at The Times and prompted more than three weeks of upheaval and a barrage of negative press.

Times staffers immediately said that Levinsohn was unfit to lead the news organization, especially as it has been aggressively pursuing allegations of sexual harassment by Sacramento politicians and Hollywood entertainment figures.

"Levinsohn has lost credibility as the leader of one of the country's top newspapers," newsroom employees wrote in a petition signed by more than 200 staff members and sent to Tronc's board following the NPR report. Twelve top editors of The Times separately expressed deep concerns about Levinsohn to the board, writing: "Such behavior is unacceptable and jeopardizes The Times' 136-year legacy of integrity."

Tronc then brought in the Sidley Austin law firm to investigate the allegations contained in the NPR report.

The move came on the day that the National Labor Relations Board oversaw the counting of ballots in a unionization election. The paper's journalists voted 248-44 to join a union, in large part, because of a lack of confidence in corporate management. It was a historic step for a news organization with long anti-union roots.

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Staff members also have been anxious about the prospect of leaving The Times' offices, where they have been located since 1935 in an iconic Art Deco building in downtown Los Angeles. The Times' lease is up for renewal this summer, and Levinsohn had expressed interest in relocating the newsroom to a campus-like setting in the Playa Vista area -- an idea Tronc executives have since shot down.

Before joining The Times, Levinsohn worked at Guggenheim Digital Media, Yahoo and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

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