Inside the Trouble at the Los Angeles Times

The paper has reportedly been plagued by a toxic work environment

People make their way past the Los Angeles Times office building in downtown Los Angeles, California on July 16, 2018. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)
People make their way past the Los Angeles Times office building in downtown Los Angeles, California on July 16, 2018. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)
AFP via Getty Images
By Bonnie Stiernberg / July 2, 2020 10:22 am

Like many other institutions, the Los Angeles Times is currently confronting its own systemic racism by reevaluating its hiring practices and reckoning with its lack of diversity. But as a lengthy new piece by Vice entitled “What Went Wrong at the Los Angeles Times” points out, the issue is part of a broader problem at the paper, where a toxic workplace culture — overseen by executive editor Norm Pearlstine — has left BIPOC and female employees feeling undervalued, underrepresented and unheard.

The article cites, among other things, the way an anonymous complaint by Times staffers in June 2018 about deputy managing editor Colin Crawford, who ran the photo and video department. The complaint asked Times leadership to investigate Crawford for “his relationships with and treatment of women on his staff, his bullying and intimidating behavior, and his overall conduct of putting his personal interests ahead of those of the Photo Department and The Times,” adding, “Colin rules Photo mostly by fear and threats. That’s why this complaint is anonymous.” Allegations against Crawford date back to the ’80s and ’90s and include an incident where he reportedly put his hand down the shirt of a female colleague at a work function. Despite these claims, Crawford retired in January 2019 (instead of being fired), and as one staffer told Vice, “he basically got out of actually getting in trouble … and was afforded this opportunity to just step aside.”

Crawford isn’t the only former Times employee t0 face sexual harassment claims. A slew of allegations against food editor Peter Meehan surfaced earlier this week, and on Wednesday, Meehan stepped down.

The Vice article also points out enormous pay gaps at the paper, including $14,000 at the median between men and women, $19,000 between white and non-white employees, and $31,000 between white men and non-white women.

“There’s a culture that has continued to fester there for a very long time,” one former Black staffer told the publication.

“I’ve been slow to understand the pain that accompanies feeling ignored, whether intentional or inadvertent,” Pearlstine told Vice in response to some of the critiques against him. “You would think that by now I would have known better, but it’s obvious that I didn’t.”

“The Times continues to benefit from Norm’s leadership, integrity and passion for great journalism,” Times owner Patrick Soon-Siong said in a statement. “We can assure our staff that we have an ongoing commitment to diversity and inspiring our community which started when we took over the reins just two years ago.”

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