LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Tribune Publishing Co. on Tuesday fired the publisher of the Los Angeles Times after little more than a year on the job.
Tribune gave no public explanation for Austin Buetner’s abrupt departure, which took effect immediately. It appointed Timothy Ryan, publisher of The Baltimore Sun, to replace Buetner as head of the company’s California Newspaper Group, which includes The San Diego Union-Tribune.
The Chicago Tribune, one of 11 major daily newspapers under Tribune Publishing, reported that company leaders were unhappy with the financial performance of the Los Angeles Times and with some of Beutner’s high-profile hires.
Buetner, a former investment banker and Los Angeles civic leader, said on Facebook that he was fired. He was named publisher in August 2014, shortly after Chicago-based Tribune Publishing was spun off from broadcasting properties owned by Tribune Media Co.
“I am not departing by choice, nor is this some ‘mutual agreement’ on my part and Tribune Publishing. Tribune Publishing has decided to fire me. I am sorry you will read this on social media, but I no longer have access to my Times email,” Buetner wrote.
Buetner, 55, told the Los Angeles Times that he got a vague explanation for his dismissal. He didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment from The Associated Press.
“They wanted to go in a different direction,” he told the Times. “We articulated a strategy when I got here. If Tribune was looking for a caretaker, they picked the wrong person.”
The Times reported that Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad approached Tribune in recent weeks about buying the Los Angeles and San Diego newspapers, operating them as a separate company.
Broad’s overtures likely fueled doubts about Buetner’s allegiances among Tribune brass, which had already clashed with him over issues including budgets and advertising strategy, newspaper analyst Ken Doctor said. The Los Angeles Times, whose financial results are not made public, was lagging other Tribune metropolitan dailies in financial performance, Doctor said.
Broad’s overture to buy the newspaper “kind of brought this to a head,” Doctor said. “It’s a precipitating factor.”
Broad, who has previously expressed interest in buying the Times, declined to comment through a spokeswoman.
During his short tenure, Buetner led the Tribune’s purchase of The San Diego Union-Tribune for $85 million, putting the dominant newspapers in California’s two largest cities under common ownership.
Buetner co-founded Evercore Partners and retired from the investment bank in 2008 after he was seriously injured in a mountain-biking accident. He was named Los Angeles deputy mayor for economic development in 2010 at a salary of $1 a year and later explored a run for mayor.
Ryan, 56, was appointed publisher of The Baltimore Sun in 2007, added publisher duties at The Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2010, and led the 2014 acquisition of newspapers in Maryland, including The Capital in Annapolis. He will relocate to Los Angeles.
Spagat reported from San Diego.