Tribune Co. Chairman Sam Zell yesterday backed Los Angeles Times Publisher David Hiller's decision to replace the newspaper's editor.
"I've said loud and clear that I am returning control of our businesses to the people who run them," Zell told Tribune employees in an e-mail message. "That means David Hiller has my full support. He carries direct responsibility for the staffing and financial success of the L.A. Times."
Hiller said in an interview that he notified Zell last week that James E. O'Shea would be leaving the Times after 14 months as editor. Hiller and O'Shea had clashed over the newsroom budget, and Hiller characterized O'Shea's departure as voluntary. O'Shea yesterday repeated his assertion that Hiller had fired him.
In a defiant speech delivered in the newsroom, O'Shea, 64, complained about what he called the "pervasive culture of defeat" manifested by repeated cutbacks in spending across the country. He attacked Tribune's budgeting process for its reliance on "voodoo economics," saying that "journalists and not accountants should seize responsibility for the financial health of our newspapers."
Hiller, 54, said in the interview that he agreed with O'Shea and other critics that newspapers should answer the challenge of declining advertising sales and circulation with creative thinking rather than across-the-board cuts. The bulk of that work remains to be done, he said, "and my conclusion was we needed to look at this with fresh eyes."
Chicago-based Tribune owns the Times, The Sun, the Chicago Tribune, seven other newspapers, two dozen TV stations and the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Zell, 66, a billionaire real estate investor, last month completed an $8.2 billion buyout of Tribune in conjunction with an employee stock plan. As chairman, Zell has promised to give local executives autonomy.
Zell didn't respond to a request for an interview yesterday.
Thomas S. Mulligan and Martin Zimmerman write for the Los Angeles Times.