Los Angeles Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong has appointed Terry Tang, editor of the editorial page, as the paper’s executive editor on an interim basis.
Tang, whose appointment takes effect immediately, becomes the first female editor in the paper’s 142-year history.
Soon-Shiong moved quickly to name the new leader to settle a newsroom roiled by substantial layoffs, a one-day strike and the loss of three top editors in the last two weeks. In turning to Tang, a respected journalist who earlier in her career worked at the New York Times, Soon-Shiong selected a leader with whom he had already established trust.
The Times laid off about 120 journalists this week to cut costs to reduce the financial losses the Soon-Shiong family has absorbed since they acquired the organization in 2018 for $500 million. Projections showed another year of heavy losses.
Tang replaces Kevin Merida, who stepped down earlier this month after disagreements with Soon-Shiong over his role as executive editor and the extent of the newsroom cuts.
Tang, in an interview, said it was too early to say whether she will become the permanent editor.
"The most urgent job now is to reorganize the newsroom — and reset a little bit," Tang said. "I want to do that job immediately and for however long that it takes."
The restructuring comes at a challenging time in the news industry as traditional outlets struggle against economic headwinds. The Washington Post, CNN, NBC News and NPR all have shed hundreds of journalists in the last year as print circulation, ratings and advertising revenue fall dramatically. Local news outlets have been particularly hard hit; a recent report found that more than 2,500 journalism jobs were eliminated last year.
Soon-Shiong has maintained his commitment to revitalize The Times. But the paper's ambitious turnaround plan launched five years ago was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Hollywood strikes last year that significantly reduced advertising spending by major film and TV studios.
Soon-Shiong and his family have covered more than $100 million in operational losses and capital expenses since the acquisition, the owner said. He has pledged to continue to invest in the organization and absorb losses.
“We are committed to important public service journalism that our community relies on while accelerating new, novel approaches," Soon-Shiong said Thursday in a note to staff. "We will execute decisively to engage new audiences."
Tang, 65, has deep roots in Southern California. She was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and her family spent a few years in Japan before immigrating to Los Angeles when she was 6. Her father worked in administration for Continental Airlines and the family settled near LAX in Gardena, where Tang and her sister attended public schools.
She graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in economics and earned her law degree from the New York University School of Law. She served as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in the early 1990s.
Early in her career, Tang worked as an editorial writer and columnist for the Seattle Times and as a reporter at the Seattle Weekly.
The new top editor has led the Opinion section for nearly two years, joining The Times in 2019 as deputy Op-Ed editor after working two years at the American Civil Liberties Union, where she served as director of publications and editorial. Before that, she worked at the New York Times for 20 years in a variety of roles in opinion and on the news side of the operation, including as deputy technology editor; metro desk major beats editor; and co-founder of a previous online platform for commentary.
Tang, who is married and has four adult children, including triplets, returned to California nearly five years ago, in part to help care for her elderly mother.
"I really love California," Tang said. "I was away for awhile, but it is very nice to be back to where you grew up. But L.A. is a very different place than when I left, so there's been a wonderful combination of discovery and yet comfort."
The new leader will continue to oversee the editorial page, working with deputy editorial page editor Mariel Garza, who leads the editorial board; and deputy Op-Ed editor Susan Brenneman.
“I have worked with Terry in her capacity leading L.A. Times Opinion over the past two years," Soon-Shiong said. "She has consistently impressed me with her passion for the important role journalism plays in our lives and with her love of Southern California, where she grew up.”
She now must juggle a much larger portfolio in a pivotal election year, and ensure a separation between the Opinion section and reporters and editors on the news side, who must maintain their neutrality in divisive political issues.
Past executive editors, including industry titans John Carroll and Norman Pearlstine, oversaw both news and opinion pages during their separate tenures. Merida, in contrast, wanted distance between the two divisions, so he structured his role as leader of the newsroom and studios.
Soon-Shiong has praised the Opinion section since Tang took over.
He said in the statement that she “has shown tremendous leadership in her job with our Opinion team, finding ways to engage readers with the most urgent issues of the day. Under her, Opinion has exemplified the critical role that the L.A. Times’ voice plays — to our city, and to the world — in bringing attention to issues that matter most, especially for those whose voices are often unheard.”
Carla Hall, a 30-year Times veteran and a member of the Editorial Board, described Tang as a smart, collaborative and hard-working editor.
"She will bring a thoughtfulness to deciding what the paper's mission is, and I think she will be respectful of the reporters and section editors who put out the paper," Hall said. "She told us that she has a challenging job ahead of looking at the whole paper and trying to figure out where things need to change."
Tang is expected to quickly appoint a managing editor to oversee day-to-day operations.
Her first task will be calming a newsroom after a dizzying period of change. She also must mend relations with guild members and negotiate a new labor contract to replace one that expired in late 2022. Union members have grown restive during the last year because there has been little progress in bargaining. Terms of the old agreement remain in place.
"Being a journalist is a greater privilege now than ever," Tang said. "There are challenges all over journalism. But even with our decline in staff numbers, we cannot let that get in the way of us carrying out our mission. The journalists who are here are superb. ... But we have to be very smart in how we deploy the resources that we have."
Tensions flared late Wednesday night when union negotiators challenged management over its list of 115 people who were targeted for layoffs. Guild representatives questioned why three recent hires had been protected from the cuts, according to people familiar with the matter but not authorized to comment. Managers said the three had been hired through grants from charitable foundations, and so they were excluded from the layoff process.
Guild negotiators argued that the company wasn't following contract rules, and so late Wednesday, the three were told that they would be laid off.
"As a result of concerns the Guild has raised about the process, the company has notified several other employees that they are impacted, but the parties will continue to address these issues," Times spokeswoman Hillary Manning said.
Two other journalists were also laid off late Wednesday after managers acknowledged they had made errors in job classifications. For now, the reduction stands at about 120 journalists. Managers said the total could fluctuate again during a two-week period when non-affected staff members can volunteer to take a buyout.
“The decision to reduce our headcount was difficult for us all, but we are committed to our mission as a thriving pillar of democracy," Soon-Shiong said in the note to staff members. “A vibrant future for the L.A. Times, where this organization is self-sustaining and capable of growth, requires new approaches to better engage with our readers and build new audiences.”
Soon-Shiong has previously conveyed deep frustration with past leadership and its focus on building the Los Angeles Times Studios with video and podcast initiatives in an effort to reach new audiences. One L.A. Times Studios' production — "The Last Repair Shop" — was nominated this week for an Oscar for documentary short film.
Layoffs this week and in December hollowed out the Studios and video teams. The paper also made deep cuts to its Washington bureau; a recently launched Latino initiative, De Los; and forced out several veteran award-winning photographers.
In addition to Merida, managing editor Sara Yasin resigned this week, joining another top editor, Shani Hilton, who stepped down last week.
Despite the nearly 25% reduction in the newsroom, Tang said the paper cannot lose sight of its purpose.
"We have to make the L.A. Times the voice for this whole region and for the state," she said. "It's going to be top of mind to maintain the importance of that voice and the stature of the L.A. Times. ... The entire industry is going through a difficult time but with the ownership and commitment of the Soon-Shiong family, we can survive and thrive."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.