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Los Angeles Times Fires Publisher Austin Buetner

Austin Buetner

Austin Buetner

Staff Report

Ediotr’s note: Below this story is a letter Buetner wrote to LAT employees.

Austin Beutner  who became publisher and chief executive of the paper last year, confirmed today that he had been fired.

According to The Times, Baltimore Sun publisher Tim Ryan will replace 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 Times reported. The proposal was rejected.

Beutner oversaw the Tribune’s purchase of the San Diego newspaper in May, part of a strategy to reduce production and distribution costs and generate higher revenue for digital companies.

The two papers were called California News Group.

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 post on Facebook, saying his departure was not by choice and  not 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.”

 

Austin Letter

My Parting Thoughts
September 8, 2015

I am writing to let you know that I am leaving the Los Angeles Times, effective immediately.  I am not departing by choice, nor is this some “mutual agreement” on my part and Tribune Publishing.  Tribune Publishing has decided to fire me.  I am sorry you will read this on social media, but I no longer have access to my Times email.

I agreed to become the Publisher and CEO of the Times because I believe in Los Angeles and recognize the unique role the Times plays in our community.  It is the civic conscience which holds accountable those with power in Los Angeles, helps celebrate what is good in our community, and provides news and information to help us better understand and engage with the world around us.  As the thousands who attended The Taste, our annual celebration of food, this past weekend experienced, the Los Angeles and California story really does begin here at the Times.

It has been about a year since I joined the Times.  We have much to be proud of as we worked together to breathe new life into an organization which had labored under the burden of massive change in the newspaper industry, compounded by a contentious merger followed by a lengthy bankruptcy.

The Times is only as good as its journalism.  I am proud to say that each and every day the Los Angeles Times is reaching new, award-winning heights.

This past year Times journalists won two Pulitzer prizes and were finalists for two more, our best showing in years.  We have relaunched the California and Business sections to much acclaim.  Our Opinion effort has worked to increase civic engagement in our community with its new effort to grade local government.  The effort has drawn Angelenos throughout the city into the conversation about what we ought to expect from our local government.

Times journalism continues to make a difference in our community and around the world.  The riveting series “Product of Mexico” exposed the horrific conditions under which farmworkers in Mexico were living and working.  The stories led to changes in the Mexican government’s regulation and oversight of farms and in the buying practices of American supermarket and restaurant chains.   The result was improved conditions for hundreds of thousands of farmworkers.  The Times gave readers an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at LACMA’s plan to expand and the pivotal role one person’s generosity is playing to help make LACMA’s dreams a reality.  Michael Douglas shared with Times readers his journey in rediscovering his Jewish faith and heritage, a story which went viral and was shared around the world.

Importantly, the Times is also creating a digital future, engaging audiences in innovative and new ways.  The “Fight of the Century” guide to the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, published in English, Spanish, and Tagalog on Flipboard, had more than 1 million viewers around the world.  Our “California Conversation” with California Governor Brown on “Water in the West” was held before a live audience, watched on TV in almost 1 million households, and read by more than 1.5 million people in print and online.  “Trail Guide,” our live blog on the presidential campaign, has drawn 1 million readers since making its debut in July.

We have launched 20 email newsletters to engage directly with audiences in particular areas of interest, ranging from “Essential California,” which provides the daily pulse of California, to “Counter Intelligence,” Jonathan Gold’s weekly sample of food and culture in Los Angeles, to “Water and Power,” the definitive source for information about the drought.  Several of the newsletters have more than 100,000 subscribers and a few have open rates as high as 50%–far better than the industry average.  Sponsors are finding these newsletters the ideal way to reach an engaged, target audience.

These verticals, or communities of interest, serve as the foundation of a plan to both identify a digital audience and generate revenue from these readers’ deep engagement with our journalism.  In the digital world, more and more people are gathering their news and information from multiple sources.  If the Times is to succeed, it must become very good at developing these verticals.  We are off to an auspicious start.  The recently launched “Education Matters,” will soon be followed by a California politics vertical and a groundbreaking effort to discuss race, diversity, and multiculturalism in our country, #EmergingUS.

The Times has made strides in reengaging with the local community.  HS Insider, a program to allow high school students to chronicle their daily journeys, has over 100 schools participating with a student population of over 100,000.  College Connection offers effectively free subscriptions to college students.  The Publisher’s Book Club has gathered around the city some of the Times’ most loyal readers to hear from authors ranging from the Times’ own Jill Leovy on her thought-provoking work “Ghettoside” to Roy Choi sharing stories of his journey in “L.A. Son.”

I am particularly proud the leadership at the Times has begun to better reflect the community we serve.  Among the changes, the Times now has its first female Managing Editor, its first Latino Sports Editor, and “Black Twitter” is an assigned beat.  Plans are underway to publish more content in Spanish and a partnership is being developed to serve the needs of a Chinese-speaking audience in the US and in China.

As a business, we have worked to regain momentum after a decade of turbulence.  A new leadership team is in place, including people to help support our advertisers in new and creative ways. Based on the feedback from an event the sales team hosted recently where sportscaster Al Michaels shared his thoughts about the world of sports with our top advertisers, they are making real progress.

We have managed to find resources to invest in new ideas, new products, and new people while keeping spending within our budget.  More broadly, we have conceived and executed on the strategic combination between the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune.  This will allow more efficient use of resources at both papers, freeing up money to invest in the digital future and enhancing the chances of both papers to survive.  The combination is ahead of plan and on budget.  It also positions the newly formed California News Group, of which the Times and Union-Tribune are part, as the news leader in the  Southern California marketplace-becoming the place where 25 million people from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border look first for news and information about the world around them.

The 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.  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.  Newspapers must recognize their strength lies in high-quality content developed by world-class journalists with the tools they need to be successful.  Successful digital media organizations will have fewer managers and corporate executives, choosing instead to invest in journalists and technologists.

When I agreed to take this job, many people told me it was an impossible task.  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.

California is where America comes to see its future and the place where that story begins is the Los Angeles Times.

I will continue to root for you to succeed.

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4 Responses to Los Angeles Times Fires Publisher Austin Buetner

  1. potetwyp Reply

    September 10, 2015 at 12:58 pm

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    September 10, 2015 at 12:56 pm

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  3. Steve Smith Reply

    September 9, 2015 at 10:45 am

    I for one won’t miss him, the LA Times sucks, they’re a tool of state corruption.

    If I rant the LA Times I’d have an “aka John Noguez non-prosecution clock” printed right above the headline everyday.

    Then there’s the Times totally ignoring the looting of the DWP, the CBWD, the MWD, the scrapping of perfectly good generating plants to accommodate a Mexican mafia run state legislature.

    Good riddance to Mr Beutner, I hope he moves on to another state.

    • Daily Breeze Reader Reply

      September 9, 2015 at 4:20 pm

      Booted him out, compared to the trash at Orange County Register. X-CEO was tossed at OCR. When newspapers have to start charging on line readers, to read articles, they are purely money whores.

      LA Times, has been merging from bankruptcy.

      LA Times use to have well respected Sunday Magazine, hi end foto prints, but that has died decades ago.

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