U-T dispute with parent gets ink

New York Times gets ahold of leaked emails

Projected U-T ad revenues taken down $3.5 million with "no rigorous financial review"
  • Projected U-T ad revenues taken down $3.5 million with "no rigorous financial review"

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.

Austin Beutner

Austin Beutner

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.

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The UT is such a rag that it amazes me that anyone would invest in it. Newspapers are a relic from the past. In my office building there are 29 offices and only ONE still gets the newspaper.

AlexClarke: The U-T is now printed in L.A. Some San Diegans are complaining of late deliveries and omission of late-breaking news. Best, Don Bauder

AlexClarke: You have put your finger on a problem of newspapers generally. People have gotten their news from TV or the internet by the time the morning newspaper arrives. This is why newspapers have got to concentrate on interpretative reporting. However, the political and sports websites, in particular, also feature interpretative reporting.

Papers are trying to deliver that news quickly on the internet, but haven't been able to make it very profitable. Best, Don Bauder

If this internal spat were not so serious for some of those involved, it would be amusing. That's especially true since one paper seldom reported on the vagaries of the operation of another newspaper. But as to the allegation that that projection was reduced "without any good reason", I'm skeptical. It would not be the first time that a corporation or part of one had projected/budgeted in a wildly optimistic way. The paper has lost many of its advertisers that should have been the last to go, and has partially replaced them with junky stuff, such as full page, color ads for home pest removal. Nordstrom? I can't recall when I last saw one of their ads. And so the story goes, as the U-T circles the drain.

Visduh: I can remember the days, more than a dozen years ago, when the U-T bragged that San Diego was the most wired -- or one of the most wired -- of the big cities. Now the U-T has grown to regret that boasting, because the internet, Craig's list, etc. are among the electronic communications means that are killing the U-T and other metro dailies.

This is indeed a weird internal battle. First, how many times out of 100 does a company artificially LOWER a revenue forecast? Zero, until now, as far as I know. Predictably, Tribune Publishing stock got hit as a result. Lesson hopefully learned.

Second, it is obvious to me that the Southern California wing of the company leaked those emails to the New York Times. I would love to know how many house dicks are snooping around now, trying to find the source of the leak. Hewlett Packard redux. Best, Don Bauder

Lotta dicks of every variety at Tribune Company.

monaghan: Yes, indeed. Best, Don Bauder

One gigantic solar flare and poof! But what is chiseled in stone will remain, if fragmentary. When libraries started "digitizing" the newspapers from the 19th century and chucking the smelly old relics, they lost my support.

Twister: At some point, smelly old relics disintegrate. Do you suppose that is what the libraries had in mind? Best, Don Bauder

No. It was "modern management." Newspapers survive in landfills. There's a big difference. I paid big money for a broken run of Horace Greely's rag from the 1850's. Still have it. Couldn't afford more. I hope some real collector's sucked them up.

Twister: Newspapers do disintegrate over time. That is a problem for those who collect them as a hobby. Best, Don Bauder

That's why you have conservators. They know what causes disintegration, so they treat and store them properly. No big deal if you understand the principles involved.

Go ahead and digitize; just don't destroy the actual historical artifact.

Twister: But how many of these old newspapers are worth preserving? I can see saving some of Horace Greeley's papers. I can't see saving copies of the National Enquirer. Should the residents of Crivitz, Wisconsin (fewer than a thousand people) spend their money to save back copies of the Crivitz Daily Pooh-bah, or whatever the paper is called? Best, Don Bauder

"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."

Could there be a method in this madness? Is driving down a stock, then buying on the bounce something that never happens?

Twister: Yes, yo-yoing a stock is common. But it is done by Wall Street bandits, NOT insiders. Insiders already own a bundle of stock. It is not in their interest to drive it down deliberately. Best, Don Bauder

Twister: By law, insiders are not supposed to be short. That is an old law; I believe it is still in existence. Best, Don Bauder

"smelly old relics" - don't forget the Union-Trib microfiche at the old central library! Thank goodness for digital storage, indexing, intelligent search and the internet. Not just the U-T and other media but almost everything is recorded and saved at https://archive.org/ . History is right at your fingertips now.

swell: I agree, but you will have to convince Twister. Best, Don Bauder

I did not dispute the digitizing itself; just getting rid of the originals. Kindly read the posts more carefully.

There seems to be terrible infighting going on between Chicago parent Tribune Company and its SoCal properties San Diego Union-Tribune and Los Angeles Times and it is made manifest in many ways.

Today the LATimes reported on Page One that Los Angeles' Police Department routinely under-counts the number of violent crimes happening there, presumably to make itself look good -- but bad for building public trust.

Austin Beutner, Angeleno publisher of the two SoCal dailies, was fired recently after only one year by Chicago Tribune for undermining Chicago's authority. Before his own autumnal demise, Beutner in midsummer publicly called out and fired the paper's trenchant editorial cartoonist Ted Rall on charges about resisting a jaywalking ticket over a decade ago. The LA Times never printed a single letter about the loss of Rall, whose work had appeared weekly for years. Afterward it was rumored that Beutner had political ambitions and did the Police Officers union a favor by canning the cartoonist. Rall's frequent hilarious target had been the doofus LAPD.

Doofus LAPD? Certainly you can come up with a better adjective than that. The LAPD "ees what eet ees", and there is a dark side to it. If anyone has paid any attention to the LAPD--or most So Cal PD's--in recent years, there would be little public trust and less reason for trust. In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of a situation where I would be able to trust the LAPD, or any of the other So Cal police forces, to do the right thing.

Visduh: Isn't there (or wasn't there?) a TV show celebrating the LA police? Best, Don Bauder

I'm sure there have been several. One that managed to be popular was "Adam 12" that starred the late Martin Milner. But that goes back to the 70's. Oh, and "Dragnet" with the inimitable Jack Webb. But there must have been some that were newer that I never saw or noted.

Visduh: I thought that there was a show either right now or in the not-so-distant past making heroes of LA police. I don't watch such shows. But I see the plugs for them. Best, Don Bauder

The last one I watched was "Hill Street Blues." Not about LA cops, but it tried to provide a bit more honest look at internal copolitics. Haven't watched any since.

Twister: The late Bill Kolender was an excellent politician. But the jury is still out on his performance as police chief and sheriff. Best, Don Bauder

Quite right, "doofus" only re alleged jaywalking incident with fired cartoonist Ted Rall. In most other cases, I would agree, LAPD cops seem quick to rough people up, to engage in wild and deadly car chases and to fire indiscriminately -- remember the poor woman who was shot in her truck while home-delivering Los Angeles Time newspapers during the Doerner manhunt. Not exactly "protect and serve."

monaghan: That firing was inexplicable. Old jaywalking charges? Please. The cartoonist should take the Times to court, if it in fact gave out a previous jaywalking offense as the reason for the firing. Best, Don Bauder

I have trouble imagining an editorial cartoonist going up against Tribune Company's Los Angeles Times in court. I wanted to cancel my subscription over Rall's firing, but the LAT is my only print newspaper delivered to the door, so I just wrote a few letters. I hope Ted Rall will sue and will set up a legal defense fund for himself.

monaghan: It is hard to beat a newspaper in Superior Court. Those judges are elected, and the local newspaper's recommendation is critical. Best, Don Bauder

We need the whole story here. Journalism, anyone? Links? And I don't mean sausage.

Twister: Why don't you dig up the story for us. Best, Don Bauder

I cain't evun spel jernalist. But I would be willing to be a cog in the wheel for a real one. Give us all an assignment and spread the load. If all of us took a piece of it, the load would be spread out, lightening the load for the real journaliste.

Tw

PS: I know how hard you already work, and responding to every one of us must keep you up nights (in more ways than one). The least we could do in return would be to take off, rather than pile on, the pressure. Semper le journalistico!

Twister: Truth is, I enjoy working. Otherwise I would relax in my advanced age. Best, Don Bauder

TRIBUNE PUBLISHING MAY BE "HOUSE OF CARDS." SAYS FORTUNE MAGAZINE. Yesterday (October 15), Fortune magazine observed that Tribune Publishing, owner of the Union-Tribune and Los Angeles Times. "seems to be a house divided against itself." The company "can't manage its papers, but it won't let them manage themselves." The reference, of course, was to the big split between the Southern California papers and the rest of Tribune Publishing.

The punchline: "A centralized model with chain ownership of unrelated metro papers looks more and more like a house of cards." Further, the company has a "tiny base" of online subscribers -- "only 70,000 across its stable of more than ten daily newspapers."

The company's chief executive officer continues to say that "millenials will eventually pick up the habit of reading a printed newspaper (something virtually no one else in the industry actually believes)," says Fortune. Best, Don Bauder

IF TRIBUNE PUBLISHING SELLS THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, WOULD THE UNION-TRIBUNE GO WITH IT? OR WOULD IT BE LOOKING FOR STILL ANOTHER OWNER? The online publication 24/7WallSt says in a headline it is "Time for Tribune Company to sell the LA Times." The publication makes a very good argument. The question is whether Tribune Publishing "should be a large company with very low net income and a great deal of debt, or a smaller one with a better financial future."

Tribune Publishing is loaded with debt. It could dump some of that debt if it sold the L.A. Times, says 24/7. But, it says, "The wealthy residents of Los Angeles only want the Los Angeles Times."

That would leave the Union-Tribune an orphan, looking again for an owner. It would certainly be a pariah if it remained under the Tribune Publishing wing, after the leaking of internal emails by the Southern California contingent. Chances are, under this scenario, the U-T would go back on the market again.

One comforting factor: Fortune (quoted in the item above) believes that Los Angeles moneybags would buy the Times AND the U-T. But who knows? Best, Don Bauder

Now that they are paired, how would it be possible to separate the LAT from the U-T? That's a terrible idea since the U-T is now without its Mission Valley home and presses and is worse than an orphan: It's a ship of journalists without even a sail.

monaghan: A plurality of employees seems to think that the U-T will move downtown. I think that would be a mistake, but nobody will be asking me. Best, Don Bauder

I guess I'm beating a dead thread, but I will repeat what I have said in the past--newspaper managements are stuck in the past. I want to be able to read my paper, mark it up, then go to the computer later and be able to dig up the entire chain of evidence backing up the journalism (except, of course, the journalist's first-person reporting), and expect the paper to follow the story to its conclusion, not drop it when it looses its legs.

THAT would go a long way toward rejuvenating newspapers, but there are a lot more changes, counter to established newspaper culture, that need to be made.

Tw

Twister: If a newspaper kept following stories after they have lost their legs, they would go broke even faster than they are now going broke. Best, Don Bauder

I understand the labor-intensive part, but they need a way to distinguish themselves from infotainment.

Best, Tw

Twister: Instead of distinguishing themselves from infotainment, newspapers are turning more and more toward infotainment. Best, Don Bauder

That's why they are failing--in my book.

Tw

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