Austin Beutner, the wealthy ex–Wall Street hedge fund veteran who spent 110 days as publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune earlier this year before being canned by Chicago-based U-T owner Tribune Publishing, is heading back to his old stomping grounds on the island of Manhattan, this time to have a "conversation" about "the future of newspapers" at an October 22 event hosted by the Columbia Journalism School's Brown Institute for Media Innovation.
The event, first noted by LAObserved.com, is another in a continuing line of Beutner appearances, op-ed pieces, and open letters from Los Angeles politicos and business types attacking the publisher's firing and calling for local control of the L.A. Times, another Tribune property from which Beutner was let go as publisher.
The continuing anti-Tribune drumbeat has raised questions regarding the role in the campaign of Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad, whose failed buyout of the L.A. Times from Tribune has been tied to the departure of Beutner, Broad's onetime partner in an earlier attempt to acquire the newspaper.
Broad is a multimillion-dollar backer of a well-financed political movement favoring charter schools, in which he has been allied with fellow Democratic billionaire Irwin Jacobs of La Jolla, a big giver to nonprofit media, including KPBS and the Voice of San Diego.
Ex–Pete Wilson aide Daniel Schnur, a volunteer media contact for the pro-Beutner push, says the effort has no ulterior motive, though Schnur's campaign for California secretary of state last year drew major money support from Netflix founder Reed Hastings and other well-heeled donors favoring charter schools.
A possible takeover of the Times and Union-Tribune by Broad and partners such as Jacobs is regarded warily by some in the teachers’ union, already concerned by undue influence over nonprofit media here.
According to LAObserved, Beutner was invited to speak at Columbia by journalism school dean Steven Coll, who was seen in the Times newsroom over the summer meeting with editor Davan Maharaj, triggering talk that Coll, an ex–Washington Post managing editor and New Yorker writer, might have gotten a role in Los Angeles under Beutner.
Meanwhile, the results of the Tribune's company-wide "Employee Voluntary Separation Program" are being anxiously awaited at the Union-Tribune and the chain's other papers.
If enough workers don't accept the buyout offer by the October 23 deadline — a day after Beutner’s New York appearance — involuntary layoffs could follow.