The New York Times has a highly unusual story today (October 14) suggesting that Tribune Publishing, parent of the Union-Tribune, lowered the U-T's revenue forecast for the rest of the year without any good reason. The story suggests that this was one more manifestation of the long-running feud between the Los Angeles Times and Tribune Publishing's Chicago headquarters.
The U-T and the Times are working together as the Southern California wing of Tribune Publishing.
On September 8, Austin Beutner, publisher of both the Times and Union-Tribune, was fired by Tribune Publishing, which on September 18 lashed out at Beutner's performance in its flagship Chicago Tribune publication. In that article, the Tribune Publishing chief financial officer lowered revenue estimates for the year and blamed sub-par performance in Southern California.
In today's story, the New York Times revealed email exchanges within Tribune Publishing. Those emails almost certainly were leaked by the Southern California wing of the company.
The Tribune Publishing chief financial officer had written in an email September 17, the day before the announcement, that she had "reviewed the forecast reports and believe there is risk in the San Diego numbers. Please take ad revenues in San Diego down $3.5 million, and rerun numbers."
After the announced reduced forecast, Russ Newton, president and chief operating officer of the U-T, wrote Chicago headquarters and expressed surprise at the reduced forecast. "The projection does not seem realistic.... No one on my team appears to be the source of that decision," Newton wrote, according to the Times, which said it could not get confirmation from Newton.
Later, Newton provided numbers to the Chicago headquarters and wrote another email stating, "I was somewhat confused by the request to reduce our San Diego [revenue] forecast by $3.5 million for the balance of the year." The U-T said in the worst-case scenario it would have to reduce the forecast by $821,000.
Tribune Publishing conducted "no rigorous financial review" in dropping the revenue forecast, writes the New York Times.
It certainly appears that the forecast may have been revised lower to throw mud in the departed Beutner's face. Tribune Publishing has been taking flak from Los Angeles leaders for its treatment of Beutner, a popular figure in that metro area.
After the announced lower forecast, Tribune Publishing stock took a beating. Tribune Publishing seems to have been cutting off its nose to spite its face.