Yoshino of LA Times is Business Journalist of the Year
When Los Angeles Times business reporter Daniel Miller reported about Walt Disney Co.’s business dealings last year with the city of Anaheim, the stories reverberated through Southern California.
The story, published in two parts, with a third story by Priya Krishnakumar, Miller and Ben Poston, highlighted the problems that occur when a giant conglomerate negotiates on taxes and incentives with a municipality.
“Over the last two decades or so, as Disney’s annual profit has soared, the company has secured subsidies, incentives, rebates and protections from future taxes in Anaheim that, in aggregate, would be worth more than $1 billion, according to public policy experts who have reviewed deals between the company and the city,” noted the investigation.
Disney responded by banning the Times’ reporters from reviewing its movies for its Holiday Movie Preview section.
Miller’s editors, business editor Kimi Yoshino and Company Town editor Richard Verrier, held firm, however, and the paper stood by its coverage. Disney backed away from its ban, and three months ago, the Anaheim City Council voted to end agreements that offer the Disneyland Resort tax breaks for investing in its local properties.
“Disney was very aggressive in pushing back from the beginning,” said Miller, “and I’m not sure every editor would be willing to stand up to a company like this. .Kimi always operated with the highest of integrity. There is no other editor I would rather work for….on a story like that.”
Other reporters and editors on the business desk of the Times have similar stories about Yoshino. “Kimi is universally liked by every single person in the business section,” said Andrea Chang, who worked as a reporter and assistant editor under Yoshino. “She’s warm and approachable, but also a sharp editor with sweeping vision who gets things done.”
“She’s the best,” added auto technology reporter Russ Mitchell. “Great news judgment, fine editing skills, highly intelligent, a clear communicator, firm decision maker, but almost always even keeled. I’ve worked for some great editors, but none combine all those traits so well.”
For holding the Times business section together during a time of upheaval at the paper and helping its staff produce work that earned it the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Best in Business general excellence award twice during her four-year tenure, Yoshino is the 2018 Talking Biz News Business Journalist of the Year.
Others considered were New York Times business editor Ellen Pollock and ROI-NJ editor Tom Bergeron. Past winners have included Associated Press business editor Lisa Gibbs, Jay Yarow of CNBC.com and Kevin Delaney of Quartz.
Yoshino stood out this year because of her management and calm demeanor in the face of adversity. At the beginning of 2018, she was suspended for two days by then Times editor Lewis Dvorkin amid an effort to find out who was leaking information to other media about the turmoil under his tenure. Her suspension led to a newsroom revolt which, among other things, led to Dvorkin’s departure.
The day after Yoshino’s suspension, the staff of the business news desk sent a letter to Dvorkin noting its “unwavering support” of her. The letter stated, in part, that:
In her four years as Business editor, Kimi Yoshino has guided the section to widespread recognition and national awards, earning the profound respect and affection of her staff. She is an exceptional manager and editor, and has demonstrated the highest levels of professionalism, integrity and ethics. Kimi is the reason many members of this staff have remained at the Los Angeles Times.
The paper has since been sold by Tronc Inc. for $500 million to biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, who has been investing heavily in the newsroom, adding dozens of positions. Longtime journalist Norm Pearlstine was named executive editor, and has promoted Yoshino to deputy managing editor and. within months, to senior deputy managing editor. She now oversees sports, business, arts, entertainment and lifestyle coverage.
“I think she means a lot to the paper,” said Miller. “Her elevation at the paper — when Norm came in and identified her as someone who should be promoted and given more resources — it was a breath of fresh air.”
Yoshino wasn’t always a business journalist.
Before joining the Times in 2000, Yoshino worked as a reporter at the Stockton Record and Fresno Bee. She grew up in Modesto and attended the University of California at Davis.
After joining the Times, she was a reporter for the Metro and Business sections, covering the cruise industry and the Disney theme parks, and did two rotations reporting from Baghdad. She then became an editor, helping guide the paper’s investigation into corruption in the city of Bell, which won the Pulitzer Gold Medal for Public Service in 2011.
Her presence immediately settled the staff.
Chang, who was a technology reporter at the time and was later promoted by Yoshino to an assistant editor, said Yoshino “understood that the most important thing that made the section great was the staff. She would always make time. Her door was always constantly open.”
Under Yoshino, the section quickly added several new hires and underwent a design overhaul. Chang said Yoshino fostered a well-rounded mix of consumer and financial stories, oversaw ambitious investigations and stressed the importance of the digital product as much as the print section.
She also looked out for her staff and kept an eye on individual career goals. This summer, after Chang had spent 11 years in the business section, she confided in Yoshino about wanting to make a change.
“I went into her office with half a dozen ideas for what I could do next. The long shot was my dream beat: covering food and restaurants in Los Angeles. I figured I’d have to give it the hard sell,” Chang said.
But Yoshino surprised her.
“Before I even had the chance to bring it up, Kimi said, ‘How would you feel about covering food?’” she recalled. “She just knew. It was a leap of faith because I hadn’t covered restaurants before, and the trust and support meant a lot. Then she made it happen.”
Yoshino hired Ivan Penn from the St. Petersburg Times in 2015 to cover the energy beat. He said he was attracted to working for her because of how she listened to his story ideas.
“She would take the time to hear me out,” said Penn, now with the New York Times business news desk. “Her first thing was to understand where I was coming from and then give me guidance.”
And then there’s the food. The business section has had a long tradition of “sooies,” the term farmers use to call pigs to the trough; whenever reporters or editors would bring food in, they’d send out an email with the subject line “soieee at the counter.”
Under Yoshino, “sooies” were taken to the next level. She organized Waffle Wednesday, personally bringing in waffle irons and ingredients that she set out in the middle of the section; she also invited people from other departments to join. Another time, she took the staff out for burritos in East L.A. for lunch.
“One person was working on a 1A story, and she said, ‘That’s in good shape, let’s go get those burritos,'” remembered Penn. “She took a group of us out for a burrito at lunchtime in the midst of us doing great work. Her mentality is ‘I want to reward you all as people, recognize all your good work.'”
Other themes “sooies,” such as dumpling day and “things you can dip,” were big hits as well. The business desk also wrote haikus to welcome its new microwave and decorated a 4-foot-tall plastic cactus, which became the section’s mascot of sorts.
Dan Beucke joined the business news staff in 2016 as deputy business editor after working at the rival Orange County Register as business editor and then assistant managing editor in charge of Sunday, enterprise and investigations.
At that time, the Times business desk had just lost some longtime staffers due to a buyout. “My biggest concern was the psychological situation I was walking into,” he said. “I figured the survivors would be shell-shocked. Some of the folks who had most recently left hadn’t been there that long; they were basically giving up on the place.”
What Beucke found, however, was that the business desk was an oasis amid the chaos that existed elsewhere at the Times as it churned through multiple editors and publishers. He credits Yoshino.
“Kimi had shepherded through the survivors — a mix of veterans and newbies — with her down-to-earth management style,” said Beucke. “People trusted her. She was straight with them. She gave editors underneath her space, respecting their strengths and letting them feel a measure of control over their little corners. Reporters knew she came up through the ranks and wouldn’t ask anyone to do something she hadn’t done already.”
That coverage this past year has included stories such as the Times investigation into sexual harassment in Hollywood. The section also tackled the issue of immigrant farm labor in California, from wages to housing, which won SABEW awards in two categories. Penn, Ryan Menezes and Ben Welsh won a SABEW award this year for their coverage of how California’s power companies build plants whether they’re needed or not.
Another award-winning story examined the wait times at different Disneyland rides and offered tricks and suggestions to consumers. Still another looked at the counterfeit shoe business.
Said Penn: “Kimi just constantly impressed me as one of her reports because she encouraged us to not only do great journalism and work hard but also play hard. She is not only a good line editor, she is a good human.”