Tribune Board Fires Back

Tribune Publishing Company’s board of directors has no intention of reversing its decision to fire Austin Beutner as publisher of the Los Angeles Times or of selling the newspaper, according to a company statement released yesterday

The statement, prompted by withering criticism of Beutner’s abrupt sacking last week, followed by calls for Tribune to turn the newspaper over to local ownership, defended the company’s long-term plan to achieve financial stability and reinvent it for the digital age.

The strategy will most likely require further cost-cutting through layoffs, as well as greater central control as part of a bid for more national advertising dollars. The LAT, which contributes around 40% of the company’s total revenues, will be an important area of focus.

This brought Tribune’s corporate management into conflict with Beutner, who made a number of hires as part of a plan to boost local coverage and win more local ad dollars.

Indeed, reports that Tribune is looking to trim expenses by $10 million by cutting up to 80 positions from the LAT newsroom, representing around 16% of the total 500 editorial staff.

The statement issued by Tribune on Thursday reads, in part: “We are fully committed to our five-point transformation plan to create value for all shareholders and stakeholders alike, which we launched last year when Tribune Publishing became a publicly traded company.

"Our California News Group, which includes the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, is a cornerstone of our Company’s portfolio and a key component to our success in the future. Tribune Publishing is deeply committed to these world-class institutions, the communities of Southern California and all the other markets in which we operate.”

As noted, Tribune has come under intense pressure from key members of the Los Angeles business, civic, and political communities to sell the LAT to local owners. The leading candidate is billionaire Eli Broad, who offered to buy the newspaper with Beutner’s support several weeks before the latter was canned.

Earlier this week, the list of critics grew longer with an open letter from the LA city attorney, controller, council president, and a number of other council members, urging Tribune to “consider the important role that Angelenos must play in its management and ownership as you consider the possibilities for the Times' future.”

Previously, over 50 community and business leaders signed an open letter calling for Tribune to sell LAT, including former mayors Antonio Villaraigosa and Richard Riordan and Broad himself.

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