With the Soon-Shiong family's 2018 acquisition came a renewed sense of hope after a decade of upheaval. But managerial missteps and ethical lapses have contributed to anxiety and distrust in the newsroom, according to interviews with more than 50 current and former staffers. As The Times raced to amplify its journalism, top editors allowed management problems to fester.
"The pain of the past has never really healed," Image Editor Marques Harper said. "After the sale, we were expecting that a reimagination and rejuvenation would unfold. Instead, we've had controversies and scandals."
The Times has weathered ethics crises before. In 1999, business executives secretly struck a profit-sharing deal with Staples Center, unbeknownst to the newsroom, which produced a glossy 168-page magazine issue devoted to the new arena. The Times' media critic David Shaw chronicled the transgression.
The Times assigned two reporters to investigate the recent controversies in an effort to be transparent with its readers. "If we're going to want to shine a light on others, we have to be willing to shine a light on ourselves," Pearlstine said.
The summer of troubles for The Times first boiled over after George Floyd's killing on May 25 in Minneapolis. Journalists were on edge after agreeing to temporary furloughs because of the plunge in advertising brought on by the novel coronavirus. Staff members took to social media and the communication platform Slack to demand The Times address failures in covering communities of color and retaining journalists from underrepresented backgrounds."Younger journalists are demanding more of their managers than previous generations," said Kelly McBride, chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at the Poynter Institute. "Management teams across all of journalism are figuring this out. It is not unique to the L.A. Times."
Criticism about institutional racism was soon joined by outrage over accusations of ethical violations and managerial wrongdoing. Two sections of the newspaper became flash points: Food and Sports.
By early 2019, The Times was searching for ways to engage readers beyond its base of older and more affluent Angelenos. Part of the plan was to cover esports, gambling and Las Vegas, a big draw for Southern Californians.
Angel Rodriguez, then-assistant managing editor for Sports, thought Markazi, an L.A.-based ESPN writer who covered Las Vegas sports, would be a good fit. With a Hollywood-esque, man-about-town swagger, Markazi had amassed 120,000 Twitter followers and built an Instagram audience captivated by his weight-loss journey.
The paper trumpeted his hiring, but several veteran journalists conveyed their alarm to Rodriguez. Among them was sports enterprise reporter Nathan Fenno.