Broad, Villaraigosa, Riordan sign protest letter to Tribune

open-letter.jpgIn an open letter to Tribune Publishing CEO Jack Griffin, Los Angeles civic leaders including Eli Broad and two former mayors urge the company to continue progress made by fired LA Times publisher Austin Beutner and retain local management of the paper. Here's the letter with a link below to the full list of signers, which includes Richard Riordan and Antonio Villaraigosa and former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.

An open letter to Mr. Jack Griffin and the Tribune Company Board of Directors:

We are writing to you on behalf of a broad cross-section of the people of Los Angeles to express our profound disappointment regarding your decision to dismiss Austin Beutner as publisher of the Los Angeles Times. As you know, a successful newspaper not only serves as the voice of a community, but as a common ground on which its citizens can come together to exchange ideas, create and strengthen relationships, and forge consensus on how to make their community a better place to live.

By removing a respected and proven local leader such as Austin from this critical
position, you are making it much more difficult for the Times to fulfill these responsibilities. As you move ahead, we strongly urge you to continue with leadership that knows and loves

Los Angeles and shares our commitment to its future. Anything less would be taken by the community as a message that the Tribune Company has little interest in the future of this great city.

The Times struggled through a series of financial and operational difficulties for many years, yet Austin had demonstrated in only a year that the Times was once again capable of impactful journalism and meaningful community leadership. Making such a drastic decision to terminate him after he had served less than a year in that position is both curious and disappointing to us. To the contrary, we all looked forward to seeing even more progress under Austin’s leadership.

During this tumultuous time in the journalism profession, we understand that your goals are both to serve a community and to oversee a profitable business enterprise. However, we share Austin’s view that the paper’s commitment to Los Angeles is a key to its financial success as well. At a time when readers can receive their news from an infinite number of sources, the connection that develops from a media platform’s commitment to a community is of tremendous import.

For 133 years, the Times has faithfully served the people of Los Angeles. Under the guidance of dedicated public servants and civic-minded leaders, the Times has helped us come to understand each other, face our challenges and move forward together. We strongly urge you to demonstrate to the news consumers of Southern California that the Times will continue to serve their interests. The alternative would be to do great damage to both our community and your bottom line. With our love of the city and of the Times, we strongly urge you provide the Times with the leadership and support that its readers deserve.

Full list of signers

For another taste of the unhappiness in LA's civic leader community about the latest mess at the Times, check this from Paul Vandeventer, president and CEO of Community Partners. Reposted with permission from his Facebook page:

RIP LAT. Not without a certain sadness have I begun to envision an LA without the LA Times. I thought Austin Beutner was the best-positioned and best-intentioned, by far, of any of the recent publishers at LAT to take the long shot necessary to reinvigorate the Times as a meaningful civic institution with modern media infrastructure, a strong journalism team, and new muscle and skin.

That's what I cut my adult teeth on, a newspaper that cared about and participated in shaping the civic culture of this region. Whatever you thought of the owner's politics or positions, the news the pre-Tribune Times gathered represented a repetitive, anticipated and engaging daily experience shared by people of all strata across the city. Columnists like Mary Louise Oates actually rewarded with exposure those who made significant contributions to the civic project. Editors competed for Pulitzer recognition and for impactful stories that held business, political figures and social sector organizations accountable. It was muscular in curating a community of connected, curious, intrepid and literate journalists watched their backs while they turned all the stones necessary to tell a story. Perfect? No. But legitimate and enduring? Yes, indeed, with the proof of decades as evidence.

Since 2000, as absentee owner disconnected from the civic and social fabric of place and people, Tribune Publishing and its predecessors have had successively less and less to offer LA, the Times and its employees -- and will not offer in the future, I am beginning to believe -- the institutional protection it takes to support a vigorous probing journalistic enterprise. I feel for my friends and their colleagues at the Times who must endure yet another leadership change and the uncertainty that comes with it. We've come to fantasize that Eli Broad would re-establish local ownership but the Beutner firing seriously rebuffs that notion. A miracle superman is not circling out over the Antelope Valley ready to swoop in and save the day.

Alas, civic institutions do die. When they fail repeatedly to adapt and then slip the bonds of trust with people and place, they die miserably. I nurse a fantasy of a new civic-scale media venture -- call it LA Quetzal -- stealing onto the scene, yanking staff and readers alike from the Times, and arising fierce and fired up from the growing ash pile at the skeleton that is 90053. In Beutner's untimely firing, I see with the clarity of someone at a deathwatch what look to be the agonal breaths of a once-powerful and binding force that cared about the condition of the city's landscape and soul. RIP LAT.

There's support for his take on the Facebook page, but also pushback from Bill Davis, the head of Southern California Public Radio and KPCC.

I think you're romanticizing the "old" LA Times, Paul, and putting too much emphasis on Austin's "plans." If the reports of a $10M to $20M annual shortfall at the LAT are true--and I haven't found anyone who says that they're not--then the paper was due for a round of cost-cutting and lay-offs irrespective of whether Austin stayed on or not.

The point is that newspaper publishers who don't meet their revenue and margin targets rarely stay in their positions very long. Newspapers are for-profit, commercial enterprises. I liked Beutner's championing of local coverage, civic engagement and even membership--probably b/c a lot of it could have been lifted straight out of KPCC's strategic planning documents. But I also know that the public media model is *profoundly* different from the commercial model and doesn't translate well into for-profit structures.

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