Former LA Times publisher calls Beutner firing 'tragic, reprehensible'


Tom Johnson, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times for ten years under Times-Mirror ownership, emailed Austin Beutner a supportive note this morning. The note somehow got into the conversation within and around the Times newsroom, so here it is. He terms the firing of Beutner a sad turn that ends forward momentum for the Times and says a feared, upcoming round of new cuts would be bad news for the paper's future.

As usual, I am redacting the email addresses of the principals. But they are the right addresses.

From: Tom Johnson
Date: September 12, 2015 at 7:30:26 AM EDT
To: [Austin]
Subject: A message from a former Times' publisher

Dear Austin:

Thank you for your splendid leadership of Los Angeles Times.

Your strategy was exactly what The Times needs in this rapidly changing media world.

You were well on your way to restoring The Times to a position of journalistic, operational and financial excellence.

From multiple sources within The Times and within the Southern California community, I know of your incredible efforts.

To see your leadership abruptly ended‎ by Tribune is both tragic and very sad.

Reversing the dynamic momentum you had ignited is reprehensible.

If Tribune implements another round of severe expense cuts, that action likely will weaken rather than strengthen The Times.

I so hope that Tribune ultimately will recognize the critical need to place The Times back into Southern California ownership.

Seeing you once again as Publisher---with strong Los Angeles‎ owners supporting you---would be the way to secure a successful future for the newspaper we both love.

As Otis Chandler's successor and close friend, I believe he would have been most happy with your excellent leadership of "his Times."

Thanks again. You sure tried!


Tom Johnson
Publisher, 1980-1990

Johnson was the first publisher of the Times to come from outside the Otis or Chandler families, and he became president of CNN after he left the Times. Beutner posted his own message to Facebook earlier in the week.

Since Beutner was fired on Tuesday by Tribune Publishing CEO Jack Griffin, a number of Los Angeles civic leaders have protested and urged Tribune to maintain local management of the newspaper. The new publisher sent out by Chicago is Timothy Ryan, the publisher of the Baltimore Sun. A new round of buyouts that was already in the works, followed possibly by layoffs, is expected to hit the newsroom by the end of this month, unless delayed.

An exodus of executives hired by Beutner within the past year has also begun.

Added: Local Latino leaders have added their protests to the voices raised about Beutner's firing, citing his overtures to ethnic communities and push for diversity.

"In his short tenure Beutner reached out more to LA's ethnic communities than any LA Times publisher had ever done," said Executive Director Arturo Carmona in a press release.
"Just as Beutner's leadership was starting to gain steam and notoriety across the southland the Tribune Group pulled the rug out from under him," said Antonio Gonzalez, WCVI President.
"Under Beutner the LA Times was turning its foreign coverage to Mexico and won a Pullitzer Prize with an expose on the unfair labor conditions for Mexico's farmworkers," said Dr. Miguel Tinker Salas, Chairperson of the Claremont Colleges Chicana/o Studies Program.
"The Los Angeles Latino Chamber of Commerce is disappointed in the firing of Mr. Beutner. We felt under his leadership portrayal of Latinos was being covered more fairly than in the past and in a much more positive manner," said LALCC's Chairman Gilbert R. "Continual turmoil in the Tribune's approach to managing the LA Times from Chicago is, in our opinion, proof that local ownership of the Times is the only way to restore credibility. We urge the tribune to sell the Los Angeles Times to local interest."

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