The owner of the Los Angeles Times has appointed a newspaper veteran and company insider as publisher after ousting Austin Beutner, a civic leader and former investment banker.
Tribune Publishing Co. on Tuesday named Timothy E. Ryan, who had run the company’s Baltimore Sun Media Group, as publisher and chief executive of the California News Group, which includes both The Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Ryan, 56, takes the helm just a year after the appointment of Beutner, the first publisher after Tribune Publishing was created in a spinoff from the broadcast properties of Tribune Co.
Tribune Publishing declined to comment on the rationale for firing Beutner.
Ryan embraced the opportunity to lead The Times.
“I think it is a tremendous newspaper that is filled with excellent journalism that now is more accessible than ever because of the variety of platforms,” he said. “The brand and the history connected to it, as well as the talented people that are creating it on a daily basis, those are all immediate thoughts I have when I think of the L.A. Times.”
Both California papers — like all newspapers — are grappling with turmoil stemming from the sharp decline of print advertising revenue, which has resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs nationwide. Slumping profits resulted in Tribune Co.’s long reorganization through bankruptcy, which led to the company’s being split into Tribune Publishing and Tribune Media.
Ryan faces particular challenges in managing the California papers after years of painful staff cuts, leadership changes and rapidly evolving efforts to make money on digital news. He will inherit the just-launched efforts of Beutner’s tenure, including specialized email newsletters and digital “verticals” focused on key topics, such as education and politics.
Beutner also sought to create an events business, presenting journalists and experts in sponsored gatherings to discuss important public issues.
Among Ryan’s first major decisions will be whether to continue those efforts and keep the staffers — some in higher-level positions — recently hired to manage them.
Ryan said he is “getting up to speed on those topics right now.”
“All those things sound great,” Ryan said of Beutner’s digital efforts. “I just want to better understand the financial aspects of those initiatives, but I found it very interesting.”
Ryan said he was particularly impressed with the recent purchase of the Union-Tribune for $85 million, a move spearheaded by Beutner and designed to create editorial efficiencies and add value for advertisers. He said he would consider more acquisitions of regional media outlets.
“I think you’ve only got to look out the windows here from our offices,” he said. “There’s all sorts of different media businesses that could be of interest.”
Ryan expanded the Baltimore Sun Media Group’s footprint in Maryland last year by acquiring the Capital in Annapolis, the Carroll County Times and other area publications and websites. Ryan also served as publisher and chief executive of the Morning Call Media Group, another Tribune property led by the Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pa.
Ryan will face intense pressure to improve revenue and profits at The Times and the Union-Tribune from Tribune Publishing executives and investors, said Gabriel Kahn, co-director of the Media, Economics and Entrepreneurship program at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
“When you’re a publicly traded company, people just don’t have the patience required to experiment and see what these businesses can do,” Kahn said. “People are always looking at the easiest thing to do, which is to shrink the cost.”
That undoubtedly will mean staff cuts, Kahn said.
“Ryan is somebody who the management in Chicago feels is a real team player who deserves to work on a broader canvas in Los Angeles,” Kahn said. “There’s just so many head winds in this business. No matter what you do, even if you do all the right moves, the results are modest.”
Ryan has been publisher and chief executive of the Baltimore Sun Media Group since 2007. He earlier held executive and management posts at the Chicago Tribune, another Tribune Publishing newspaper, and at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
A native of Rochester, N.Y., Ryan has a master's degree in business administration from Northwestern University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Notre Dame, and he’s still known as a rabid Notre Dame sports fan.
Jack Griffin, Tribune Publishing’s chief executive, called Ryan “one of the country’s most accomplished publishing executives” with a “successful track record of strategic acquisitions, revenue diversification and digital transformation.”
William Marimow, editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, said he worked with Ryan in 2000 and 2003 when Marimow was editor of the Baltimore Sun and Ryan was the paper’s vice president of circulation and marketing.
“During that time, he was 100% supportive of the newsroom,” Marimow said, adding that Ryan “understood the balance between having a vigorous and profitable company and a newsroom that produced indispensable content.”
He also said Ryan was “genial and good-natured, but willing to be tough when the situation required being tough.”
Former Baltimore Sun columnist Susan Reimer, who recently retired after a 36-year career at the newspaper, said Ryan had the respect of the newsroom and did not interfere with its editorial independence.
“I never heard anybody in the newsroom say a bad word against him,” Reimer said.
Times staff writer Stuart Pfeifer contributed to this report