Union-Tribune's chief photographer heads for the Times

Longtime San Diegan morphs into L.A.'s deputy of transformation.

"He is firmly convinced that covering San Diego is the best job on the planet," says McCutchen's online U-T profile.
  • "He is firmly convinced that covering San Diego is the best job on the planet," says McCutchen's online U-T profile.
  • From McCutcheon Twitter feed

Though locals would be none the wiser, the Union-Tribune may soon be stripped of its best longtime talents, signaling to worried insiders that the hometown daily could be on the precipice of being subsumed into the Los Angeles Times, also owned by biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong.

June's announcement of Soon-Shiong's purchase of L.A.Times

June's announcement of Soon-Shiong's purchase of L.A.Times

The most recently announced departure is that of U-T director of photography John R. McCutcheon, who after three decades in San Diego has been named deputy editor for Project Management and Transformation at the Times. McCutcheon got his latest U-T photo credit on a shot of San Diego city council candidate Tommy Hough that ran September 27.

"John joined the San Diego Union-Tribune in 1988 and has worked as a photojournalist, picture editor, assignment editor and, currently, as the Director of Photography. He is firmly convinced that covering San Diego is the best job on the planet," says McCutchen's online U-T profile.

But the U-T, losing readership and advertising, has not been treated as favorably by Soon-Shiong, who is said to view the San Diego outlet as an outlying bureau and potential talent reservoir to be raided for his flagship L.A. Times. Thus, chronic staff and page count shrinkages here have drawn skeptical eyes.

"I can't keep up with the @latimes announcements this week," wrote the paper's chief transformation editor Kris Viesselman, herself a former U-T managing editor, in an October 4 tweet heralding McCutcheon's move.

"Thrilled to welcome multi-talented @johnrmccutchen (transformation) and highly experienced @sliss33 (digital) to our team!" (Seth Liss formerly worked for previous Times owner tronc in Los Angeles.)

While the U-T has languished in L.A.'s shadow, Soon-Shiong has boasted of pouring $100 million of new cash into the Times, following his $500 million purchase of the operation, along with the U-T and a group of weeklies from star-crossed tronc in June.

"I overpaid,” the Los Angeles physician told an October 2 media conference in Beverly Hills. “It wasn’t the money. It wasn’t the business. It was, 'Do we want this paper to exist or not?'”

Per an account by Poynter.org, Soon-Shiong has "approved a hiring spree in the L.A. Times' Washington bureau, the reopening of its Seoul bureau and the opening of its Singapore bureau, and the addition of new deputy managing editor Sewell Chan and the paper's new transformation editor, Kris Viesselman."

So far, though, little or none of the big-money largesse has trickled down to San Diego. Based on its daily PDF online version, the U-T's Friday, October 5 page count dropped to 55 from 64 a year ago, with traditionally lucrative full-page Friday advertisers including Fry's Electronics and North County Ford dealer Ken Grody no longer present.

Though the fortunes of the U-T have fallen, Soon-Shiong is looking to grab control of a raft of other California newspapers, backing a bid by McClatchy Co., owner of the Sacramento Bee, to take over tronc, the New York Post reported September 25.

"If a deal with McClatchy comes to fruition, then Soon-Shiong could potentially end up as chairman of a combined Tronc/McClatchy," the account said, adding that McClatchy’s biggest papers, the Miami Herald and the Kansas City Star, along with Sacramento Bee and the Modesto Bee "would be attractive additions to Soon-Shiong’s other California holdings."

With Soon-Shiong's plans in the wind, as of October 4 tronc has changed its much-maligned name, bestowed over two years ago by then-chairman Mike Ferro, back to Tribune Publishing.

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No reason to think Soon-Shiong won't cannibalize the Bees for the L.A. Times the same as he is doing to the U-T. Always had a love/hate relationship with the U-T due to its editorial positions, but still sad to see it kick the bucket like this.

Looks like the Reader will be the only place left for reliable local in-depth reporting.

What should really bother you is how the editorials under new leadership are described as "news".

Does a newspaper need a "director of photography" anymore? Most every reporter has a smartphone with a decent camera in it, and they can shoot video, too. We're long past the days of scruffy photographer "Animal" being sent on assignment on "Lou Grant." ;-)

Apparently, a newspaper's Director of Photography position is important enough so as to warrant the National Press Photographers Association considering the position worthy of a Director of the Year award. The award is given to the editor(s) of "an outstanding newspaper, magazine, video, movie, Web site, book, or other publication or broadcast that supports and promotes strong photojournalism, and best use of photography, and whose individual dedication and efforts have moved photojournalism's standards forward while also advancing the best interests of all photographers". As it so happens, the award for this year was given to...wait for it... a newspaper Director of Photography!!. Seems that despite your proclamation to the contrary, it is still considered a worthy position. And I am curious, have you ever been nominated?

Expect traditional newspapers to become still picture "books" whose true worth will become evident during elections and the huge media buys from the Ultra Wealthy!

Most media buys during elections go to TV commercials. They are blasting away already.

I wonder how TIMES staff members enjoy their new digs in charming El Segundo, looking out to the busy I-105 across the street, and the LAX runways real close? What an awful location, except it's convenient for covering LAX, aerospace, game publishing and Air China. You'll never hear Tony sing "I left my heart in El Segundo."

Was downtown LA "charming?" The confluence of freeways had to be very visible from any of those LAT buildings if you were up high enough to avoid looking at the sidewalks of the mean streets. I suppose there were die-hard Angelenos who actually thought DTLA (as the Times calls it) was a nice place to work. Diff'rent strokes f'r diff'rent folks.

Newspapers have traditionally been located downtown in cities. In LA, they were close to City Hall, the Hall of Justice, IRS and other govt. locations. Also close to major corporations, law firms, banks, hotels, museums, etc. This made it better located for reporters to do their work. Can you picture the New York Times moving to Queens, next to JFK International Airport? That would be equally ridiculous. I've been in the TIMES building in the past. It's a couple of blocks from the 101, but several blocks from the 110. So not similar to the El Segundo site.

Not being in the biz, could someone explain to me what a "transformation editor" is?

He's the disrupting evangelist in charge of innovation!

Or perhaps in charge of obfuscation.

Or perhaps someone that is focused primarily on Money generation not news...

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