Tribune Publishing board says company is ‘deeply committed’ to California papers

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Tribune Publishing headquarters. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
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Tribune Publishing's board of directors doubled down on the company's stewardship of The Los Angeles Times in the face of pressure to "restore" local leadership of the embattled newspaper.

In a statement released Thursday evening, board members called the California News Group, which includes the Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune, "a cornerstone of our Company’s portfolio and a key component to our success in the future."

Tribune Publishing, they said, "is deeply committed to these world-class institutions, the communities of Southern California and all the other markets in which we operate." They also affirmed their "confidence" in Tribune CEO Jack Griffin, newly appointed California News Group publisher Tim Ryan and the rest of the company's management team.

The board statement appeared to be a response to public statements from local government officials directed at Tribune's Chicago-based leadership in recent days.

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As POLITICO first reported on September 8, Tribune fired Austin Beutner as publisher of the Times amid tensions with Griffin over the strategy for the paper, and a small exodus of other Times executives followed. Beutner was replaced by Ryan, from Tribune's Baltimore Sun, a move that was unpopular with Times employees and local readers who believe the paper should have more autonomy from its Chicago mothership.

“The appointment of a publisher transferred from outside of the Los Angeles area, and the continued practice of having key decisions made by a body located approximately 1,750 miles and two time zones away, is clearly not in the best interest of operating, growing and nurturing a local newspaper,” read a September 15 resolution passed by the Los Angeles County Supervisors.

On Wednesday, more than a dozen Los Angeles City Council members echoed that sentiment in a letter asking Tribune to "consider the important role that Angelenos must play in its management and ownership as you consider the possibilities for the Times' future."

A group of several dozen civic leaders in Southern California sent a similar letter to Griffin last week.

Speculation is meanwhile swirling about whether Beutner might mount a bid with businessman Eli Broad to acquire the Times.

Tribune Publishing was spun off from Tribune Media last year in order to separate newspapers like the Times, the Sun and The Chicago Tribune from a suite of broadcast assets that weren't saddled with the same troubles as the print industry.

Griffin has been at work on a turnaround strategy with a new roster of top lieutenants in place, like former New York Times digital chief Denise Warren. But the financials have so far failed to impress, leading media watchers to wonder how much runway Griffin has to get results for shareholders of the publicly traded company.

In the second quarter of 2015, total revenues were down 4.5 percent to $410 million, while advertising revenues fell 6.9 percent to $226 million. Net income was down to $3 million from $10 million a year earlier.