Report: Tribune Co. Rebuffs Los Angeles Times Suitor, Ousts Publisher

Politico Media says Austin Beutner is out.

AustinBeutnerPicIt all came apart in the dog days of summer. As reported by Politico Media’s Ken Doctor this morning and further expounded upon by LA Times West Coast watcher Kevin Roderick, who operates the blog LAObserved, LA Times publisher Austin Beutner (pictured) brought in some new interest and it has now, reportedly, cost him his job.

According to Doctor, Baltimore Sun publisher Tim Ryan will take over. From Roderick:

Today’s move, I’m told, follows a secret overture to the Tribune Publishing board in the past two weeks by Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad, a Beutner friend, to buy the LA Times from Tribune and take the paper private with Beutner in charge. That move, which would have left Tribune Publishing as a much smaller company, was rejected by the board, which includes Eddy Hartenstein, the former Times publisher and Tribune CEO who brought Beutner into the paper.

Roderick reminds that this latest clash echos the general history of the Los Angeles property and its Chicago parent:

The reason this all sounds familiar is that Tribune, almost a decade ago, got its Chicago panties in a twist about Los Angeles not toeing the line and sent a succession of publishers and editors out west to clean up LA. This led to a tumultuous and embarrassing era which begat Sam Zell, and the bankruptcy of Tribune, and the spin-off of the Times and other Tribune newspapers into a new publishing company that has not proven very attractive to investors.

Doctor writes that while the Beutner exit will be officially announced later today by Tribune, the parent company is otherwise not going to be commenting on the latest tumult to hit Spring Street.

Update (11:30 a.m.):
Chicago Tribune media reporter Robert Channick has some intriguing, further details:

Beutner, who had been heading up the largest newspaper in the Chicago-based Tribune Publishing chain, was let go for what sources said was lagging financial performance and a series of expensive executive hires seen by some as a prelude to a potential political run for the city’s former deputy mayor.

Update (2:10 p.m.):
Beutner has posted a long farewell message on his personal Facebook account:

I am writing to let you know that I am leaving the Los Angeles Times, effective immediately. I am not departing by choice, nor is this some “mutual agreement” on my part and Tribune Publishing. Tribune Publishing has decided to fire me. I am sorry you will read this on social media, but I no longer have access to my Times email.

I agreed to become the publisher and CEO of the Times because I believe in Los Angeles and recognize the unique role the Times plays in our community. It is the civic conscience which holds accountable those with power in Los Angeles, helps celebrate what is good in our community, and provides news and information to help us better understand and engage with the world around us. As the thousands who attended The Taste, our annual celebration of food, this past weekend experienced, the Los Angeles and California story really does begin here at the Times.

It has been about a year since I joined the Times. We have much to be proud of as we worked together to breathe new life into an organization which had labored under the burden of massive change in the newspaper industry, compounded by a contentious merger followed by a lengthy bankruptcy.

The Times is only as good as its journalism. I am proud to say that each and every day the Los Angeles Times is reaching new, award-winning heights.

This past year Times journalists won two Pulitzer prizes and were finalists for two more, our best showing in years. We have relaunched the California and Business sections to much acclaim. Our Opinion effort has worked to increase civic engagement in our community with its new effort to grade local government. The effort has drawn Angelenos throughout the city into the conversation about what we ought to expect from our local government.

Times journalism continues to make a difference in our community and around the world. The riveting series “Product of Mexico” exposed the horrific conditions under which farm workers in Mexico were living and working. The stories led to changes in the Mexican government’s regulation and oversight of farms and in the buying practices of American supermarket and restaurant chains. The result was improved conditions for hundreds of thousands of farm workers. The Times gave readers an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at LACMA’s plan to expand and the pivotal role one person’s generosity is playing to help make LACMA’s dreams a reality. Michael Douglas shared with Times readers his journey in rediscovering his Jewish faith and heritage, a story which went viral and was shared around the world.

Importantly, the Times is also creating a digital future, engaging audiences in innovative and new ways. The “Fight of the Century” guide to the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, published in English, Spanish and Tagalog on Flipboard, had more than 1 million viewers around the world. Our “California Conversation” with California Governor Brown on “Water in the West” was held before a live audience, watched on TV in almost 1 million households, and read by more than 1.5 million people in print and online. “Trail Guide,” our live blog on the presidential campaign, has drawn 1 million readers since making its debut in July.

We have launched 20 email newsletters to engage directly with audiences in particular areas of interest, ranging from “Essential California,” which provides the daily pulse of California, to “Counter Intelligence,” Jonathan Gold’s weekly sample of food and culture in Los Angeles, to “Water and Power,” the definitive source for information about the drought. Several of the newsletters have more than 100,000 subscribers and a few have open rates as high as 50%–far better than the industry average. Sponsors are finding these newsletters the ideal way to reach an engaged, target audience.

These verticals, or communities of interest, serve as the foundation of a plan to both identify a digital audience and generate revenue from these readers’ deep engagement with our journalism. In the digital world, more and more people are gathering their news and information from multiple sources. If the Times is to succeed, it must become very good at developing these verticals. We are off to an auspicious start. The recently launched “Education Matters,” will soon be followed by a California politics vertical and a groundbreaking effort to discuss race, diversity, and multiculturalism in our country, #EmergingUS.

The Times has made strides in reengaging with the local community. HS Insider, a program to allow high school students to chronicle their daily journeys, has over 100 schools participating with a student population of over 100,000. College Connection offers effectively free subscriptions to college students. The Publisher’s Book Club has gathered around the city some of the Times’ most loyal readers to hear from authors ranging from the Times’ own Jill Leovy on her thought-provoking work “Ghettoside” to Roy Choi sharing stories of his journey in “L.A. Son.”

I am particularly proud the leadership at the Times has begun to better reflect the community we serve. Among the changes, the Times now has its first female Managing Editor, its first Latino sports editor, and “Black Twitter” is an assigned beat. Plans are underway to publish more content in Spanish and a partnership is being developed to serve the needs of a Chinese-speaking audience in the US and in China.

As a business, we have worked to regain momentum after a decade of turbulence. A new leadership team is in place, including people to help support our advertisers in new and creative ways. Based on the feedback from an event the sales team hosted recently where sportscaster Al Michaels shared his thoughts about the world of sports with our top advertisers, they are making real progress.

We have managed to find resources to invest in new ideas, new products and new people while keeping spending within our budget. More broadly, we have conceived and executed on the strategic combination between the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune. This will allow more efficient use of resources at both papers, freeing up money to invest in the digital future and enhancing the chances of both papers to survive. The combination is ahead of plan and on budget. It also positions the newly formed California News Group, of which the Times and Union-Tribune are part, as the news leader in the Southern California marketplace—becoming the place where 25 million people from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border look first for news and information about the world around them.

The newspaper industry will have to change more in the next five years than it has in the last 20. The fat and redundancies bred over a generation by print monopolies with thick sections of classified ads and full-page print ads are gone. Cost-cutting alone is not a path to survival in the face of continued declines in print revenue and fierce competition in the digital world. New sources of revenue will have to be developed and no single one will be the answer. Newspapers must recognize their strength lies in high-quality content developed by world-class journalists with the tools they need to be successful. Successful digital media organizations will have fewer managers and corporate executives, choosing instead to invest in journalists and technologists.

When I agreed to take this job, many people told me it was an impossible task. Why take on the challenge? For me, the choice was easy. I could not imagine Los Angeles without a vibrant LA Times. I still can’t.

It has been a privilege to serve in this role and work with all of you. Thank you for your hard work and support and your continuing belief in the Los Angeles Times and what it means to our community.

California is where America comes to see its future and the place where that story begins is the Los Angeles Times.

I will continue to root for you to succeed.

Update (3:30 p.m.):
And here’s the official Tribune Publishing release.

Previously on FishbowlNY:
A Seismic SoCal Newspaper Shift
From LA Times Suitor to LA Times Publisher

@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.