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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

One of these weeks, the Los Angeles Times is apt to stop making headlines for what happens in the newsroom instead of in the news pages.

But this won't be that week.

The latest plot twist in the endless dramas at First and Spring Streets is the resignation of managing editor Doug Frantz. He is the number two journalist at the newspaper, and his departure was executed with the clumsiness that has come to characterize high-level personnel moves at the Times.

Here's how it happened. On Thursday morning, Frantz told senior editors that he was leaving to resume his life as a reporter and author. He has written a small library of well-reported non-fiction books, and has a reputation as a solid investigator.

After Frantz made his announcement, the paper posted a story on its website emphasizing that he did not quit to take another job. It was a key point, since the Times is rather sensitive about its people jumping to papers perceived to be better.

Well, the report turned out to be not quite true. Frantz was defecting, and to an East Coast rival.

We learned of that when the editor of the Wall Street Journal told his newsroom that Frantz was the Journal's new Middle East bureau chief. He will move back to Istanbul, where he lived for the Times for several years.

Now granted, most people's lives aren't affected much -- or at all -- by who runs the L.A. Times. Editors, and reporter bylines, come and go.

But this departure is worth noting for a couple of reasons.

Frantz was the hand-picked confidant of Dean Baquet, the managing editor during the Times' run of a dozen Pulitzer Prizes earlier in this decade.

Baquet was promoted to the top job with the hope that he would bring stability to a paper battered by plunging circulation, a waning image and staff cuts demanded by management in Chicago.

The Baquet strategy didn't succeed too well -- he was forced out last fall after refusing to go along with Chicago's secret plan to slash the Times staff. Two publishers preceeded him out the door, for the same reasons.

Now with Frantz leaving, that chapter closes. The paper is now fully under the influence of the managers who combined the Book Review and Sunday Opinion sections and who plan to turn the Sunday magazine into a showcase for forgettable beauty and fashion features.

Already, there is talk of a new round of layoffs after Illinois millionaire Sam Zell takes over the Tribune Company later this year.

Another angle to the Frantz exit is that he was a target of the organized Armenian American community. That happened after he stepped in to block a story about the Armenian genocide, accusing the reporter of bias against Turkey's version of that sad episode in history.

That reporter has written proudly of his Armenian heritage, but he complained publicly that Frantz had no cause to spike the story. The dispute turned nasty, and Armenian groups flooded the Times with emails demanding that Frantz resign.

Now that he is indeed leaving, Armenian leaders are taking credit -- and taking great interest in the detail that Frantz is moving back to Turkey, a country he and his family apparently enjoy quite a bit.

I don't know how much the Armenian pressure really played in. I figured Frantz was a goner -- eventually -- as soon as his close friend Dean Baquet left.

The transition could have been handled better, but recently that seems to always be the case with the Times.

Last month, you might remember, the paper took away the column that Al Martinez has written for many years. It had a much more passionate following than the editors knew.

After I reported at LA Observed.com that Martinez was unhappy at being forced to take a buyout, we got tons of email. So did the Times.

Well, his column will return Monday in the California section.

For KCRW, I'm Kevin Roderick and this is LA Observed.

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