On Friday afternoon, in one of Russ Stanton’s first acts as executive editor of The Los Angeles Times, he walked into the office of one of the paper’s managing editors and fired him.
“I was shocked,” said the editor, John Montorio, in an interview with The Observer. “It was really quite brief and to the point. There was no emotionalism, no hostility and bitterness. It was seriously better than that—no yelling, screaming, crying.”
Mr. Montorio, managing editor for features, who heads up the Sunday Calendar, Daily Calendar, Weekend Calendar, Book Review, Home, Food, Travel, Real Estate, Health and “Highway 1″ sections as well as the Sunday magazine, announced the news to the paper in a memo yesterday, saying he would be gone at the end of the month.
Over the last few weeks, since the L.A. Times‘ previous executive editor James O’Shea was fired in January, the paper has been divided into two camps over who should get the top job: there were those aligned with Mr. Stanton, the editor who oversaw tremendous growth of the
paper’s Web site, and others who backed John Arthur, the 22-year-veteran at the paper and its managing editor.
Mr. Stanton was named the editor on Valentine’s Day. Mr. Montorio had backed Mr. Arthur.
“I didn’t have much of a working relationship with Russ,” Mr. Montorio said. “We just worked in different parts of the paper and I had a closer association with John.”
Over the last two weeks, three editors told The Observer in off-the-record interviews that they expected Mr. Stanton’s first act as editor, should he get the job, would be to fire Mr. Montorio. But Mr. Montorio said that he was surprised by the decision.
“No one told me about it,” he said. “I didn’t think [Russ and I] had ever bumped heads. I was surprised by all this.”
The editors who speculated that Mr. Montorio would be fired said that he was unpopular with a large swath of the features department, and that it was believed he would be resistant to the paper’s increasing transition from ink to pixels, especially as the Stanton regime begins in earnest.
Mr. Montorio said that he never had a “long and philosophical conversation” with Mr. Stanton about the newspaper’s role on the Web, but he offered this: “The Web may be the future, but right now print is the goose that laid the golden egg. It’s invaluable. No one is saying that the Web is not—maybe I sound anachronistic, but what print can provide, there are lots of things the Web can’t provide, just like there are some things that the Web can provide that print can’t.
“Print can provide thought scoops,” he continued. “The paper can provide analysis—that’s what I mean by a thought scoop. You look at something in The New York Observer and think, ‘Holy shit!’ You read something that was not formed in your brain, and suddenly a reporter connects the dots for you. That’s what I think we can do. I’m much more bullish on the print industry, even if Wall Street isn’t.”
“I don’t know if I was on a soapbox and saying: Go Web! But hey, maybe I should have,” he said.
Mr. Montorio was hired by The L.A. Times in 2001 after working for years at The New York Times, overseeing the creation of sections like Styles, Dining In/Dining Out, House & Home and City.
Back when he was hired by The L.A. Times, he told The Observer: “I know this sounds crazy, but you don’t tell destiny to get lost.”
When I read the quote back to him yesterday, he said, “Oh my God! Well, I think it was my destiny, I had an incredible seven years. I think Russ has the right to surround himself with a cabinet he feels comfortable with. I don’t have any bitterness and I think it’s foolish to be angry. I respect Russ’ right to make this judgment, even
though I may not agree with it. It’s been a great chapter in my life.”