A year spent improving the quality of the news offerings at the Los Angeles Times proved not enough to help Austin Beutner hold onto his job, as persistent budget problems and a rebuffed purchase offer from Eli Broad apparently resulted in the publisher’s termination today.
“Those Broad overtures had Beutner’s fingerprints all over them. He has a past association with Broad and it seemed he was playing both sides of the fence at the same time,” said Gabriel Kahn, a journalism professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Beutner had won acclaim for improving the paper’s business and local politics coverage and boosting community outreach with more public events and emailed newsletters in his year at its helm. Times journalists won two Pulitzer prizes during his tenure.
“None of that made any difference to the bottom line, which continued to go south at a fast clip,” said Kahn. “As a publicly traded company Tribune couldn’t continue to watch the water drip out of the bathtub.”
Beutner, a former investment banker, has long played an active role in L.A.’s political scene. He was a deputy mayor in the Villaraigosa administration and made a brief run at the job himself in the last election. Ongoing political aspirations may also have played a role in his departure, said Kahn.
“Beutner had long been striving to find a role for himself in L.A. civic life, including a run for mayor that went nowhere, and there was a gradual erosion of trust in him from management,” he said.
Tribune Chief Executive Jack Griffin named Tim Ryan, publisher of Tribune’s Baltimore Sun Media Group, publisher and chief executive of the California News Group, which includes the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune.
“Tim’s successful track record of strategic acquisitions, revenue diversification and digital transformation are successful models for the industry and for our company,” said Griffin, in a statement announcing the hire.
Shares of Chicago-based Tribune Publishing closed at $11.07 in Tuesday trading, up less than a point.