Tuesday, September 08, 2015

LA Times: AUSTIN BEUTNER OUT AS L.A. TIMES PUBLISHER - Broad connection suggested

By Marc Duvoisin, LA Times | http://lat.ms/1JQ2c1m

Austin Beutner

Austin Beutner was named publisher of The Times in August 2014.


Sept 8, 2105  6:15AM  ::  Tribune Publishing Co., parent of the Los Angeles Times, has decided to fire Austin Beutner, the civic leader and former Wall Street investment banker who became publisher and chief executive of the newspaper last year.

Tribune executives were to meet with Beutner on Tuesday morning.

A Tribune spokesman declined to comment on the firing or on who would succeed Beutner.

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 proposal was rejected.

Beutner had engineered Tribune’s purchase of the San Diego paper 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 publisher of The Times in August 2014. In seeking to offset the decline of print advertising revenue, he launched multiple initiatives: email newsletters on topics such as the California drought, public events centered on Times journalism and coverage initiatives known as “verticals,” narrowly focused on such subjects as public education and California politics.

Beutner said these ventures were intended to develop an audience of regular, deeply engaged visitors to latimes.com, the paper’s website, in the belief that advertisers would pay more to reach passionate “communities of interest.”

Beutner surrounded himself with outside talent, often from the world of Los Angeles and national politics. 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 Obama; and Nicco Mele, an Internet strategist and entrepreneur who served as the digital advisor to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign.

Chang was brought in to organize public events for The Times, Maska is vice president for communications and Mele is deputy publisher, responsible for various digital initiatives.

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.

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 Assn. awarded The Times its 2015 general excellence award.

Beutner, a New York native who grew up in Michigan, graduated from Dartmouth College in 1982 with a degree in economics and went to work as a financial analyst for Smith Barney. He later joined the Blackstone Group in New York, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, and at 29 became its youngest partner.

In the mid-1990s, he co-founded the New York investment banking firm Evercore Partners. He moved to Los Angeles in 2000 in conjunction with the company’s expansion.

When Evercore went public in 2006, Beutner reportedly made more than $100 million — a figure he did not dispute but declined to confirm.

In 2007, Beutner broke his neck after misjudging a turn while bicycling in the Santa Monica Mountains and was airlifted to a hospital. It took him a year to make a full recovery. He left Evercore and poured his energies into civic and philanthropic pursuits.

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. In April 2011, he filed papers to explore a run for mayor. Espousing a business-friendly platform, he was critical of City Hall, at one point calling it a “barnyard.”

He dropped out of the race after a year, saying he wanted to spend more time with his wife, Virginia, and their four children.

Beutner served as co-chairman of the Los Angeles 2020 Commission, a panel of business, labor and civic leaders created to propose solutions to the city’s budget problems and ways to spur job growth.

In 2013, Beutner explored a possible purchase of The Times.

He was appointed publisher a week after Tribune Co. spun off the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and eight other daily papers into a stand-alone company, Tribune Publishing Co.

Beutner was the 14th publisher in the newspaper's history.

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