Russ Stanton, who was put at the helm of The Los Angeles Times to guide the paper through a series of wrenching newsroom cuts, will step down as its editor on Dec. 23, the paper said Tuesday. The current managing editor, Davan Maharaj, a frequent presence in the newsroom and a champion for the paper’s growing Web site, will take over.
Mr. Stanton, 52, joined the Los Angeles Times in 1997 as a business reporter. He took over as editor in early 2008, a tumultuous time for the newsroom. During his tenure, the newspaper underwent a series of cuts including the elimination of 250 jobs in mid-2008. The layoffs reduced newsroom staff to about 550 people from 900 in 2007. It led to a paper more focused on regional coverage and with less of a national reach.
A Times spokeswoman, Nancy M. Sullivan, said Mr. Stanton’s departure was a “passing of the baton” to Mr. Maharaj. “In leading the Times newsroom, Russ Stanton’s commitment to journalistic excellence has resulted in three Pulitzer Prizes over the past four years, including Pulitzer’s highest honor in 2010, the Public Service Award for exposing corruption in the city of Bell,” she said.
The Los Angeles Times is the fifth-largest newspaper in the United States, with a Monday through Friday print circulation of 572,998, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Like most newspapers, The Times has undergone circulation and advertising revenue declines as customers turn to news online. In 2009, the newspaper industry overall sold $4.4 billion worth of print and online ads, a 26.2 percent decline from 2008, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Last year, advertising revenue fell an additional 4.6 percent to $4.2 billion.
The Times and other publications owned by the Tribune Company, like The Chicago Tribune, have had particularly steep budget cuts as the parent company has proceeded through bankruptcy. In 2007, the real estate magnate Sam Zell acquired the Tribune’s media assets and took the company private in a leveraged buyout. But the company soon sank under its debt obligations, and it filed for Chapter 11 protection in late 2008.
In his book “The Deal From Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers,” James O’Shea, a former editor in chief at The Los Angeles Times and managing editor at The Chicago Tribune, said Mr. Stanton had agreed to make layoffs that other editors, including Mr. O’Shea, would not make.
The cuts led to low newsroom morale and a sentiment that Mr. Stanton, while good-natured with a sunny disposition, did not have reporters’ best interests in mind, according to several newsroom employees who did not want to speak publicly about their supervisor.
As the executive charged with making the cuts, he earned the enmity of former employees. “Given the damage he did to the paper, it’s hard to regret his removal,” said Tim Rutten, who worked at the paper for nearly 40 years before he was laid off this summer.
But Mr. Stanton also grew weary of cutting staff, associates said. With more budget tightening expected early next year, Mr. Stanton confided in friends that “he just didn’t have anymore layoffs in him,” said a former senior editor who would discuss Mr. Stanton only on the condition of anonymity.
Mr. Stanton, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.
In a farewell note to the staff, he wrote: “As this year comes to a close and we prepare for 2012, Kathy and I have agreed that now would be a good time for a fresh set of eyes to lead our newsroom,” referring to Kathy Thomson, president and chief operating officer at The Times.
Mr. Maharaj, 49, a 22-year veteran at The Times, will be the paper’s 15th editor. A native of Trinidad, he earned a law degree from Yale and reported for The Times from East Africa. There he wrote the award-winning series “Living on Pennies,” which chronicled poverty in sub-Saharan African.
“I am humbled and honored to lead one of the most talented and resilient newsrooms in the nation,” he said. “We will continue to push forward, especially in the digital and mobile space.”