You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

L.A. Times Publisher Beutner: Self-Serving Pol or Protector of the West’s Top Paper?

Two widely divergent pictures emerged Tuesday regarding the motivation behind the Tribune Company’s ouster of Austin Beutner as publisher of the Los Angeles Times.

To the Chicago-based newspaper publisher, Beutner was a renegade who failed to bolster Times revenues and seemed to be using the newspaper for his personal political ambitions. To Beutner allies inside and outside of the newspaper, the ankled publisher was trying to protect and build the West’s most important news outlet with initiatives that proved too bold and independent for his fusty Midwest minders.

Beutner got the boot Tuesday morning and by afternoon Tribune Publishing CEO Jack Griffin had announced that the one-time investor and political operative would be replaced as publisher of the Times by Tim Ryan, publisher and CEO of the Baltimore Sun and the Morning Call media groups.

Sources also revealed that billionaire Eli Broad had expressed interest in purchasing the Times and its sister publication, the San Diego Union-Tribune, an overture that was not welcomed by the Chicago-based company, the owner of eight newspapers.

Beutner supporters said that his interest in teaming with Broad to run the two California papers was a final straw for the Chicago-based ownership, which did not want to give up the two California outlets because they contribute a large percentage of the company’s circulation and revenues. The Tribune executives purportedly cited concerns about the large tax obligation the company would owe if the L.A. and San Diego papers were sold and would not listen to any alternatives that would have lowered that liability. In this construction, the Chicago leadership feared having their empire severely scaled back and wouldn’t  hear a reasonable offer that could have helped both the parent company and the California papers.

Sources familiar with Tribune Co.’s thinking in ousting Beutner reject this notion, saying that the publisher lost his job because revenues during his 13 month tenure had declined by double digits, while other papers in the chain (in Baltimore, Chicago, Orlando, Allentown, Pa. and other cities) were up slightly or even. “When you are part of a public company, you have to demonstrate growth and plans to drive more growth. He didn’t do that,” said one individual close to Tribune management, who asked not to be named.

Beutner’s appointment last year came as something of a surprise. He had previously worked as an investment banker, a deputy mayor under L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and a short-lived candidate for mayor of Los Angeles in 2013.

He pledged to shake up the Times by bringing in non-publishing talent who understood digital communications. Among the outside hires were Johanna Maska, who served in the White House Press Office under President Obama; Nicco Mele, an Internet strategist and entrepreneur who worked as the digital adviser to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign and Benjamin Chang, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer who had worked at the National Security Council.

Tribune Company officials suggested privately that the political orientation of the new executives suggested that Beutner was positioning himself for a future run for mayor or for governor of California. They presented no specific evidence that the employees had been, or would be, working on future political campaigns. And people inside the Times said there was no evidence of such intentions. “The talk was all about the times and the website and trying to build the audience and revenue,” said one insider, who declined to be named.

Beutner could not be reached for comment, but in a long posting on Facebook he made a case for the achievements of the Times during his brief tenure. He cited the two Pulitzer Prizes the paper won in April, for commentary (by TV critic Mary McNamara) and for feature reporting (for Diana Marcum’s accounts on the California drought) and many new digital initiatives, including 20 newsletters that focus on specific topics, such as local politics, the drought and Hollywood.

What the ouster means in regard to future staffing decisions was also in dispute. People inside the paper have been awaiting news about staff buyouts that they expect to be announced later this month. The Times, which once fielded nearly 1,200 editorial employees, now has something closer to 500. Beutner allies worried that new publisher Ryan would be more willing to cut staff, but Tribune Co. insiders said there was no evidence to support that view.

In a meeting with reporters and editors before noon Tuesday, executive editor Davan Maharaj said he had been assured by CEO Griffin that the shift away from Beutner did not portend massive staff reductions. Maharaj also told the staffers that — like with any change of publishers — there could also be a shift in newsroom leadership. But Maharaj said he had been given no indication his job was in danger.

Ryan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The revelation of a Chicago-L.A. feud was nothing new for veterans at the Los Angeles paper. Beginning a little more than a decade ago, several publishers and top editors of the Times left the paper after feuding with the Chicago-based owners. Much of the tension centered on the desire of the parent company to make deeper staff cuts and resistance to that push from editors, including John Carroll, Dean Baquet and Jim O’Shea. All three of those executives left the paper after defying calls for deeper staff cuts.

More Biz

  • Here’s How Much Money 10 Artists

    Here’s How Much Money 10 Artists Are Owed by PledgeMusic

    For eight years, PledgeMusic was a success story: A direct-to-fan platform where artists worked directly with their audiences to fund their albums, tours and all stripes of merchandise, with fans able to purchase everything from custom guitar picks to private concerts. Yet last June, Variety broke the news that the company is struggling to pay [...]

  • Korea's CJ CGV Switches Turkey CEOs

    Korea's CJ CGV Switches Turkey CEOs as It Battles With Local Industry

    Yeun Seung-ro has been appointed as CEO of CGV Mars Entertainment, the Korean-owned company that operates Turkey’s largest cinema chain. He replaces Kwak Dong Won, another veteran of the CJ-CGV group. The change of personnel may reflect two ongoing battles within the Turkish film industry. CJ-CGV, which bought Mars for some $650 million in 2016. [...]

  • China Video Streaming Giant iQIYI Loses

    Chinese Video Giant iQIYI Loses $1.3 Billion in 2018

    Chinese video streaming firm iQIYI lost over $1.3 billion in 2018, as revenues and subscriber numbers ballooned. The deepening losses reflected ever higher spending on original content production. Announcing its first full-year financials since a March IPO that launched it onto the NASDAQ, iQIYI said that it lost $1.3 billion (RMB9.1 billion) last compared with [...]

  • Lisa Borders Time's Up

    Time's Up CEO Resigned After Son Was Accused of Sexual Assault

    Time’s Up has announced in a statement posted to Instagram that its former president and CEO Lisa Borders, who resigned Feb. 18, did so after her son was accused of sexual assault in a “private forum.” “Within 24 hours, Lisa made the decision to resign as President and CEO of Time’s Up and we agreed [...]

  • Louis Tomlinson Signs With Arista (EXCLUSIVE)

    Louis Tomlinson Signs With Arista (EXCLUSIVE)

    One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson has signed with Arista, sources tell Variety. While the singer was formerly linked with Epic Records in 2017, he is signed directly to Simon Cowell’s Syco label and will move within the Sony Music family to Arista. Tomlinson teased a new single on Feb. 2, posting on Twitter, “Just heard the [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    Jussie Smollett's Bail Set at $100,000, Must Surrender Passport

    UPDATED: A Chicago judge set a $100,000 bond for Jussie Smollett on Thursday, as the “Empire” actor made his first court appearance. Smollett faces one felony count of filing a false police report. Police allege that Smollett staged a Jan. 29 attack, telling detectives that he was accosted by two men who used racial and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content