Austin Beutner, the civic leader and former Wall Street investment banker who became publisher and chief executive of the Los Angeles Times last year, was fired Tuesday by the paper’s parent company, Tribune Publishing Co.
Baltimore Sun publisher Tim Ryan was tapped to replace Beutner overseeing The Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune. The Sun is also a Tribune Publishing paper.
Tribune officials gave no indication of the reasons behind Beutner’s ouster.
“The California News Group is a critical component of our company’s portfolio and business strategy, and the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune are world-class institutions with deep connections to the communities they serve,” Tribune Publishing CEO Jack Griffin said.
Within the past few weeks, Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad approached Tribune with an offer to purchase the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune and operate the two papers as a separate company, The Times reported. The proposal was rejected.
Beutner engineered Tribune’s purchase of the San Diego newspaper in May, part of a strategy to consolidate Southern California newspapers under common ownership as a way to reduce production and distribution costs and generate revenue for digital initiatives. The two papers comprised the newly formed California News Group under Beutner.
Beutner, 55, was named Times publisher in August 2014. In seeking to offset the decline of print advertising revenue, he introduced multiple initiatives, according to the newspaper.
Beutner confirmed his firing in a lengthy post on Facebook, insisting his departure was not by choice or the result of a “mutual agreement.”
“When I agreed to take this job, many people told me it was an impossible task,” he wrote. “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.”
He warned, however, that the struggling 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,” he wrote. “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.”
The Chicago Tribune, one of the newspapers within Tribune Publishing, reported Tuesday morning that leaders of the company were unhappy with the financial performance of The Times and with Beutner’s high-profile hires.
Beutner surrounded himself with outside talent, often from the world of Los Angeles and national politics. The Times reported that his hires included Benjamin Chang, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer who had worked at the National Security Council; Johanna Maska, who served in the White House Press Office under President Barack Obama; and Nicco Mele, an Internet strategist and entrepreneur who served as the digital adviser to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign.
During Beutner’s 13 months as publisher, The Times won two Pulitzer Prizes — for cultural criticism and for feature writing — along with other national journalism awards for coverage of the California drought, the plight of Mexican farm workers and other stories. The California Newspaper Publishers Association awarded The Times its 2015 general excellence award.
In 2010, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed Beutner deputy mayor of economic development, or “jobs czar,” overseeing 13 city departments and the Port of Los Angeles. He helped to streamline the business- permitting process and led the effort to pass a tax break to lure companies to Los Angeles. Beutner accepted a $1-a-year salary and held the job for 15 months.
Ryan, 56, has been publisher of the Baltimore Sun Media Group since 2007. He is also publisher of the Morning Call Media Group, which is also owned by Tribune and is led by the Morning Call newspaper in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania.
—City News Service
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