Tribune Publishing to LAT buyers: Drop dead

trib-statement-grab.jpgWith apologies to the New York Daily News for the headline inspiration.

This is an unusual step. The board of directors of Tribune Publishing on Thursday night put out a statement clarifying "the future of Tribune Publishing’s California News Group." That's a bit of a glorified name for the Los Angeles Times and the newly acquired San Diego Union-Tribune. Basically, the Tribune board reiterates that LA is important to the company's strategy and gives CEO Jack Griffin a vote of confidence, in the face of unrealistic calls from Los Angeles interests to peel off 40 percent of the Tribune chain and sell it to Eli Broad or someone else in LA. For any kind of regime change to happen, sounds like it would have to be a hostile takeover of the entire company.

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. We affirm our confidence in the ability of Jack Griffin, Chief Executive Officer; Tim Ryan, Publisher & CEO of the California News Group; and the entire management team to execute our strategy, drive great journalism and create engaging and rewarding experiences for readers and marketing partners.

So with no sale imminent, it now seems likely that — unless new publisher Ryan comes in and makes quick changes at the top — the most immediate fallout from the Austin Beutner firing will be in who takes the upcoming newsroom buyouts and how many staffers will ultimately leave via buyout or layoff. Editor Davan Maharaj gathered the staff in the newsroom Wednesday afternoon and urged them to keep working hard, saying there were no numbers yet on how many people could leave (or maybe said, by one account, that he and the publisher had not yet "agreed" on a number.) Newsroom morale seems in the tank, across the board, despite repeated messages from inside that things weren't exactly going smoothly under Beutner. He was a meddler who blurred the lines between what a publisher does and what an editor does, he spent big on VPs and let's not forget, he was a rookie at the newspapering game.

However, even for the anti-Beutner caucus, which was bigger than a lot of the coverage of his firing suggests, his forced exit after just a year and the installation of Ryan offers little positive for the confirmed optimists to grab onto.

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