LA Times loses White House reporter and VP of communications

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Kathleen Hennessey, a White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times Washington bureau, jumped this morning to Associated Press. It appears she didn't even wait for the buyouts coming to the Times newsroom.

Also today, Johanna Maska says she is voluntarily leaving as the Times' VP of marketing and communications. She joined Austin Beutner's team as chief spokeswoman in May. Beutner was fired Tuesday morning and she is the first of the executives known to be going too.

I am leaving the L.A. Times with great pride of what we were able to accomplish and an appreciation that this paper landed me in one of the great cities in the world. The substantive work we did to focus on the community helped to draw on the wealth of passion, diversity and strength that exists across our city and our entire state. It’s my hope that the work continues and The Times continues to innovate in a way that cements it as a dynamic member of the truly amazing community it serves.

Maska tells me she will be staying in Los Angeles for now. I have to expect that others on Beutner's inner team will be leaving too. He had brought in several advisers and key executives, some with political experience although most are not the sort of people you run a political campaign with. Maska had worked on Barack Obama campaigns.

But media analyst Ken Doctor at Politico, who first reported Beutner's impending firing (I had the added detail about Timothy Ryan as the replacement publisher and the Eli Broad connection), this morning adds a new wrinkle in a piece stepping back to survey the wreckage. The headline: Could Beutner return, with Broad in tow, to the LA Times?

Doctor notes that Tribune Publishing CEO Jack Griffin had "had his fill of Beutner’s fast turn as publisher of the L.A. Times, somewhat understandably" — given that Beutner hoped to take the Times out of Tribune's hands — and that Griffin had rejected the Eli Broad overture then began to question Beutner's loyalty. Doctor says that Ryan's mandate is to cut the budget at the LA Times: "He’ll cut all expenses, including the newsroom, as he has done in his eight years as publisher of the Baltimore Sun."

Doctor also notes that Broad has more money than the fairly weak Tribune Publishing company that Griffin runs, and that there are scenarios in which Broad and Beutner make a sweetened and public push to buy the Times and force the Tribune Publishing board to accept a good deal for the company. Broad confirmed his original offer yesterday to the LA Business Journal and said it was solicited by Eddy Hartenstein, the Tribune Publishing chairman who originally brought Beutner into the Times.

From Politico:

Eli Broad can claim a net worth of an estimated $7 billion. That’s a lot more cash than Tribune itself has (Media Notebook: “TPUB’s rough quarter”). And he may have more stamina. Let’s recall he circled around the Times when Tribune first floated the idea of selling its papers two years ago. When the Koch brothers surfaced as potential bidders, Tribune decided not to formally offer the papers. Instead, it split off its papers into TPUB, Tribune Publishing, and kept the stronger – broadcast and digital – businesses in Tribune Media.

Why did Tribune management reject Eli Broad’s bid to buy the Times and UT, now grouped in a single business, the California News Group? Tribune cited the tax hit it would take on a sale.

The would-be buyers helpfully suggested a “sponsored split,” a bit of financial engineering that would lower those taxes. They were further rebuffed with that idea.

But, wait, what if Broad — with help from new ownership group partner Beutner, let’s say — presses the case? On Wednesday, Broad acknowledged he’s considering whether to do so.

If the price, terms, and engineering are right, CEO Griffin may have a harder time resisting. TPUB shareholders have already voiced their disfavor with the stock, sending the share price below $11, a drop of more than half in a year.

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