New LA Times publisher, CEO Austin Beutner says paper has to change

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Newly appointed Los Angeles Times publisher and chief executive Austin Beutner says Monday that in order to prosper, the Times has to change, adding: “If they’re looking for a caretaker, they picked the wrong guy. “

The former Los Angeles deputy mayor and one-time mayoral candidate was named the new publisher and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Times Monday.

Beutner is a former Wall Street investment banker who at 29 became the youngest partner of the New York-based Blackstone Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, according to the Times.

The Times said former publisher Eddy W. Hartenstein recommended Beutner for the job.

“I wanted to find someone who was clearly steeped and invested in the city, and who has the same belief that I do, which is that a democracy doesn’t work without a vibrant Fourth Estate,” Hartenstein said.

L.A. Observed notes that Beutner was co-chair of the L.A. 2020 commission, which "made a bunch of dead-on-arrival recommendations about the city."

“He has experience in overhauling companies,” says Mickey Kantor, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, who worked with Beutner as co-chair of the L.A. 2020 Commisssion.  “He can break down a problem or question very quickly into its sub-parts and think them through in a very clear and concise way. That’s an important attribute for any leader, and he is one of the best if not the best I’ve ever seen.”  

Kantor also points to Beutner's work as a co-founder of the investment bank Evercore Partners.  Last year, the Tribune Company retained Evercore to help explore options for selling its publishing division which includes the  L.A. Times.  

Last week, the Tribune Publishing company was officially spun-off from Tribune Media.  The move left the Times, the Chicago Tribune and other Tribune-owned papers fighting for profitability without the cushion support of Tribune’s broadcast assets. 

“These newspapers really have to swim on their own,” said Gabriel Kahn, Director of the Future of Journalism at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication.  “We have to look at choosing someone the stature of  Beutner with the eye of trying to make the L.A. Times be able to survive on its own,” Kahn told KPCC’s AirTalk.

Nonetheless, the selection of Beutner took Kahn by surprise, mainly because Beutner was part of a team of wealthy Angelenos interested in buying the Los Angeles Times and running it as a nonprofit, as the L.A. Weekly reported last February.

“He had really been in a hunt to buy the L.A. Times, sort of aggressively kicking the tires over there and trying to find a way,” Kahn said.  

In an interview published in April in Los Angeles Magazine, billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad confirmed to Kahn that he and Beutner were part of the same team:

Beutner and I are working together to find a way to buy it. But what the [parent company] Tribune Co. is doing is making that difficult. They are creating a new structure that will make it more difficult for the newspapers to break even financially. That’s a concern for us and for a lot of people.

What remains to be seen is whether buying becomes any easier or more attractive for Broad now that Beutner is in charge. 

This story will be updated throughout the day.

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