Beutner and Richard Riordan in 2011. Photo by Gary Leonard
LA Times publisher Austin Beutner made some very interesting remarks on his view of the paper and his plans during his speech yesterday at Town Hall LA. One line in particular, quoted by LA Observed columnist Bill Boyarsky, really got the attention of reporters and editors in the Times' Business section. Boyarsky, the Times' former city editor and political columnist, wrote that "Beutner isn’t completely happy with the Times’ business section. He said someone told him the Times has an anti business section 'and sometimes it seems that way.' But he didn't expand on that."
Kimi Yoshino, the Business editor at the Times, sent her staff a note this morning clarifying that there was some further comment on the subject by Beutner. From her note:
From: Yoshino, Kimi
Sent: Thursday, December 04, 2014 11:26 AM
Subject: Following up on a speech Austin gave yesterday …
I fielded so many questions about this last night, that I wanted to pass on more information to help clear up any misperceptions.
Yesterday, a reporter from KPCC tweeted that Austin said during a speech: “There are many who’ve told me we have an anti-business section, not a business section.”
Unfortunately, he failed to tweet the rest of the quote: “But we’re not going to publish just puff pieces. We’re also going to ask the tough questions, because we have to. That’s our job.”
The KPCC reporter she refers to, Ben Bergman, live-tweeted the speech and also filed a longer report on some of Beutner's more salient comments. Beutner, for example, said that it costs $75 million to staff and run the Times newsroom. He said his emergence as publisher grew out of his conversations with Eli Broad and others about buying the Times. He said the conversion to a more digital news product needs to pick up the pace. He also noted to the Town Hall audience, many of them downtown business leaders, that he takes active part in the debate among the editorial page's writers and editors about positions — and says not everybody in that group has yet accepted his more engaged role. A key and respected LA Times opinion editor, Sue Horton, announced recently she is leaving soon for a new job at Reuters.
From Bergman's report on KPCC's website:
He's determined to rapidly transform the paper for the digital age and increase the newspaper's role in the city's civic life.
“We have to be very different in digital than we were in print,” Beutner said. "We will work through every section we have.”
“I care about the community and I’ve been engaged with this community and I have a view, and I share that view with our opinion group,” Beutner said. “Over time, we’re going to find a way to work together.”
Beutner acknowledged some tension with editorial page editors, because they have not been used to working under publishers that were so involved in the editorial section.
"They're not quite in the same rhythm as me yet," he said.
Both Bergman and Boyarsky picked up on Beutner's enthusiasm for the potential of email newsletters such as Mike Allen's Playbook for Politico — Beunter says it's his first morning read after the Times — and it's support via sponsorships that can get weaved into the content. At $15,000 or so each, Beutner says, they can add up to real money for the company. The Times plans to switch its weekly e-newsletter Essential California to daily and launch a new website, HS Insider, that will include contributions from students at 41 high schools, KPCC's story says.
What’s really innovative about Allen’s column is that is sponsored. Sponsors get plugs throughout the column, in type indistinguishable from that used for news items. Wednesday, the sponsor was the United Arab Emirates, which bought three plugs, concluding by telling how the U.S. and the U.A.E. are teaming up for security. Playbook, said Beutner, sells sponsorships for $15,000, and the enterprise brings in $5 million a year.
I hope he isn’t entertaining that idea for the L.A. Times. But I liked another of his ideas, user generated content, starting with partnering with high school students, first with sports and then with other activities. That reminded me of a great youth journalism enterprise, LA Youth, put out by high school students directed by Donna Myrow from 1988 to 2013. The stories by the young people gave a powerful, honest look at teenage life, dealing with the painful and the fun. If Beutner puts something like that in the Times, he’ll get a lot clicks on the web site and draw young people and their parents to the paper.
Bergman, by the way, also tweeted about the difference he observed between Beutner and the other neophyte newspaper publisher recently in the news in Southern California.
Striking listening to difference in Beutner, who has vision for changing newspaper industry vs Aaron Kushner, who seems to think it’s 1995— Ben Bergman (@thebenbergman) December 3, 2014
And a personal note from Bergman, who discovered the $1 parking under the Central Library that comes with an LAPL library card.
Ashamed to admit this, but today I signed-up for a library card so I could save KPCC some money on downtown parking— Ben Bergman (@thebenbergman) December 3, 2014