Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A New Regime: What Will Happen Once Tribune Takes Control of Southern California Newspapers?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A New Regime: What Will Happen Once Tribune Takes Control of Southern California Newspapers?

Article excerpt

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LAST YEAR, ALL EYES IN NEWSPAPERS INDUSTRY WERE FOCUSED ON SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.

The Los Angeles Times had named Austin Beutner, a former Wall Street investment banker and first deputy mayor of Los Angeles, as publisher and chief executive. Freedom Communications with Aaron Kushner and Eric Spitz at the helm were pivoting their game strategies with the Orange County Register in Santa Ana as they dealt with lawsuits, layoffs, and the shuttering of the Long Beach and Los Angeles Register. In San Diego, speculations grew if U-T San Diego owner Doug Manchester would sell the paper to local philanthropist Malin Burnham.

A YEAR HAS PASSED, AND ALL EYES ARE ONCE AGAIN TRAINED ON THESE THREE PAPERS, BUT YOU WOULDN'T RECOGNIZE THE LANDSCAPE.

Kushner and Spitz resigned in March, handing over their duties to the new Orange County Register publisher Richard Mirman. Tribune Publishing, parent of the Los Angeles Times, purchased U-T San Diego from Manchester (which returned to its former name San Diego Union-Tribune after the sale). Then, in September, Beutner was abruptly fired from his position and replaced by Baltimore Sun (another Tribune paper) publisher and CEO Tim Ryan. Ryan was also tapped to serve as CEO of Tribune's newly-formed California News Group.

Based in Chicago, Tribune Publishing is laying some heavy stakes in the land of sunshine and palm trees. And much like the pioneers who headed out West in search of gold and new opportunities, Tribune executives are hitching their wagons on a plan that is poised to once again change the media landscape in Southern California.

WHEN TWO BECOME ONE

When Tribune Media Co. spun off its publishing business in August 2014, it was seen as a cost-saving measure. Other media companies, such as Gannett and Scripps, had also made the same maneuver. In our March 2014 cover story ("Checkmate! The high-stakes chess game for control of the Southern California newspaper landscape"), E&P reported that both Kushner and Manchester had expressed interest in buying the Los Angeles Times.

"Our interest is in all the Tribune papers. That has not particularly changed," Kushner told E&P at the time.

Well, things did change--a lot.

Not so long ago, Kushner and Manchester seemed poised to take over the Times, but with both men out of the picture and the Union-Tribune now in the hands of Tribune Publishing, it will only be a matter of time before the Orange County Register and Freedom's other SoCal newspaper, The Riverside Press-Enterprise, gets swallowed up by Tribune.

Beutner's dismissal was just another indicator that Tribune executives had other ideas in mind for their newly-formed California News Group.

Although both Beutner and Tribune haven't explained why he was let go, Rem Reider of USA Today speculated, "It's widely believed that a major factor was an offer by Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad to buy the Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, whose recent acquisition by Tribune Beutner had orchestrated. Beutner was a proponent of the transaction and presumably would have stayed on with the Times and Union-Tribune under Broad. Tribune wanted no part of the deal."

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Since Beutner's ideas didn't seem to align with Tribune's CEO Jack Griffin, Baltimore Sun's Ryan was brought in to run the Los Angeles paper. But Los Angelenos weren't keen to the idea of having an "outsider" steering their daily newspaper. Beutner was embraced by readers and the community because he was a local. After his firing, Los Angeles County supervisors unanimously passed a resolution calling for Tribune Publishing to restore local leadership at the Times.

As reported in the Times, the resolution read, "The appointment of a publisher transferred from outside of the Los Angeles area, and the continued practice of having key decisions made by a body located approximately 1,750 miles and two time zones away is clearly not in the best interest of operating, growing and nurturing a local newspaper. …

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