Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad confirmed Wednesday that he made an offer to buy the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union Tribune, saying the offer was solicited by Tribune Publishing Co. Chairman Eddy Hartenstein.
“At the request of the chairman of the board of the Tribune Co. I did make an offer … which they ultimately rejected,” Broad told the Business Journal in an interview at his Century City office. “I’ve always believed that the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego papers ought to be owned by Californians.”
A Tribune spokesman said Hartenstein was unavailable for comment.
News of Broad’s overture broke Tuesday along with word that Chicago-based Tribune Publishing had abruptly fired Austin Beutner, publisher and chief executive of the Times and Union-Tribune.
Though no official reason was given, Beutner’s ouster followed a year of efforts to improve the paper amid persistently flagging financials. He’d also been criticized for not being a team player.
A former investment banker and L.A. deputy mayor, Beutner was tapped for the job by Hartenstein, who joined the board in unanimously approving his dismissal.
Recent reports have cited Broad’s recent bid for the papers as being associated with Beutner, though neither has confirmed it. The duo previously made a run at buying the Times.
Hamed Khorsand, an equity analyst with BWS Financial Inc. in Woodland Hills, said it seemed odd that the publishing company would solicit the offer.
“I’m not surprised there’s more interest in (buying) it now,” Khorsand said. “I’m very surprised it’s coming from within the publishing company…. it’s all a surprise how everything has gone down.”
He added that Tribune Publishing’s valuation has gotten so cheap, it’s generating interest for the assets that look the best.
As for making another stab at acquiring the Southland papers, Broad sounded undecided.
“I don't know,” he said. “I have no current plans to do anything.”