UPDATED: Austin Beutner has been fired as publisher and CEO of the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune and will be replaced by Baltimore Sun Media Group Publisher and CEO Tim Ryan, according to sources close to the situation.
Beutner’s ouster comes just over a year after he was tapped to try to rejuvenate the Times’ brand after years of layoffs and the bankruptcy of its parent company had threatened its position in the Los Angeles media market. It also follows quickly on Tribune Publishing’s decision to reject an offer to buy the paper by billionaire Eli Broad, an acquisition that would have taken the Times private and retained Beutner as publisher.
In an interview with the paper Tuesday, Beutner said he was only given a vague idea about why he lost his job. “They wanted to go in a different direction,” he told the Times. “We articulated a strategy when I got here. If Tribune was looking for a caretaker, they picked the wrong person.”
By late morning, Beutner had posted a lengthy essay on Facebook, defending his tenure at the Times and saying that he was communicating with employees and others via social media because his company email had already been cut off. Among his achievements during a 13-month tenure, he cited the creation of 30 email newsletters on various topics, the paper’s two Pulitzer Prizes and its expanded special events, including the recent “Taste” food gathering an an interview that Beutner himself conducted with Governor Jerry Brown about the California drought.
An announcement will be made on Tuesday about Ryan, whose appointment is effective immediately. In Ryan, Tribune’s leadership hopes to have someone who can help them control costs, while redirecting the paper to focus more on digital content. A source close to the situation hailed the Sun publisher’s “dogged pursuit of premium content” and respect for “quality journalism.” Ryan has led the Sun since 2007, and also served in executive and management posts at the Chicago Tribune and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Beutner had been unable to substantially improve the paper’s financial performance, and appointments he made, such as tapping former political campaign digital guru Nicco Mele to be deputy publisher and former Obama administration official Johanna Maska as a marketing and communications executive, rankled the Tribune company’s leadership. There were concerns the hires were being made for political reasons, not in the best interest of the Times, sources confirm.
Those familiar with the new hires, though, said that Beutner gave no indication that he intended them to focus on anything but solidifying the Times financial base and sustaining its journalism. “I have never once heard any discussion about politics or running for governor,” said one individual close to Beutner. “There was just constantly discussion about the L.A. Times and how to make it stronger.”
In a morning meeting with about 15 of the paper’s top executives, Beutner was said to deliver news of his ouster calmly. He told the paper’s top managers to remain on the job. “He said, ‘Keep doing what you are doing. It’s working and things are getting better,’ ” said one individual who was in attendance, who asked not to be named.
The episode has painful echoes for Times staffers, who have had a series of run-ins with their Chicago-based management ever since the Tribune Co. took fought out the Times in 2000. Beginning a decade ago, a series of publishers and editors left the paper, accusing Tribune management of pushing staff reductions and cost cutting ahead of finding new sources of revenue and innovation. One of those former editors, Dean Baquet, is now executive editor of the New York Times.
Beutner is a former Los Angeles deputy mayor, investor and philanthropist, with deep ties to the city’s political and business worlds. He co-founded Evercore Partners and served as president and co-CEO of the investment bank. He also served as a partner at the private equity firm Blackstone.
Andrew Wallenstein and James Rainey contributed to this report.