Less than a year ago, the Tribune Company told The Los Angeles Times to cut millions of dollars from the paper’s budget and get rid of hundreds of jobs. The top editor and the publisher complied.
But when Tribune came calling last month to seek a new round of cuts, Jeffrey M. Johnson, the publisher, and Dean Baquet, the editor, had had enough. They refused to make what they considered drastic cuts and said so publicly.
In that space of time, Mr. Johnson — who has worked for Tribune for more than 20 years — seemed to many Los Angeles Times employees to transform himself as dramatically as Clark Kent does when he removes his glasses, steps into a phone booth and turns into Superman.
“Jeff has really emerged as a hero to a lot of us in the newsroom,” said Mark Z. Barabak, a reporter who covers state and national politics. “You’d expect your editor to stand up and fight for the editorial integrity of the paper, but it was and is surprising and inspiring and courageous that the publisher stood alongside of him.”
In reality, Mr. Johnson, 47, is a modest, unassuming family man with a wife and three sons who lives in a suburb of Los Angeles near Pasadena. “He’s a very clean-cut, wholesome Midwestern boy,” Mr. Baquet said. “He looks like the father on ‘Leave It to Beaver.’ ”
This ordinary man now finds himself in extraordinary circumstances. Because of their refusals to go along with the cuts, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Baquet are in a showdown with their corporate parent, one that could cost them their jobs and could reverberate throughout the newspaper industry.
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