Fired San Diego publisher gets journo school platform

Beutner bound for Columbia as anti-Tribune drumbeat mounts

Austin Beutner
  • Austin Beutner
  • from LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce YouTube video

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.

Eli Broad

Eli Broad

Irwin Jacobs

Irwin Jacobs

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.

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It doesn't seem to matter who owns or sells the UT or who was or will be the publisher the paper is stale and expensive by the time one cracks it open in the morning (especially competing against the free internet vs $1.50 per day). UT refuses to investigate and can be deemed responsible for such moves by the city as to stop listing how much is spent yearly on road repair but switch to a 5yrs and a 1,000 miles.

This afternoon at Haggen North Park, a woman was sitting at a table trying to sell Union-Tribune subscriptions. She said she had only sold one, and was on commission. The store, as usual, was practically empty of customers, so why would the U-T send someone to "dead zones" like Haggen stores? Talk about "stupid is as stupid does." She could have made more money selling mood rings, Elvis-on-velvet paintings, or a hotdog-on-a-stick!

Mood rings. I once left a sleeping kid in the carseat to dash into Macy's for a mood ring for a 'tweener sib and came back to find a mall detective standing by the vehicle, waiting to arrest me. I blew him off and went home. A real detective stopped by my house weeks later to tell me never-do-that-again, and I never did. Anyway, funny comment, the U-T saleswoman being on commission and all.

While not the topic of this blog post, the support for charter schools coming from Broad, Jacobs and Hastings should be cause for concern by all taxpayers. There is heavy support for charters from the right, and when these filthy rich Dems also get on the bandwagon, the push may be impossible to resist. (On the right, the supporters are those who dislike big government, and who would prefer to live in a world of no unions.) Some may see this disparate support for charters as a sign that it is a wonderful idea, in that both ends of the political spectrum like them. But just because something has bi-partisan acclaim doesn't mean it's a good idea at all.

In California, the legislation authorizing charter schools was passed in an attempt to crush the movement toward vouchers. On paper it looked Oh-so-good, but in practice charters have not delivered in most cases. More of them have ended up in scandals--financial scandals mainly--than have stood out as successes. They were freed from much of the state education code, meaning that they could do good things, and also could go astray. (Why does California have an education code? Why, it was designed to insure school districts did their job and curbed all sorts of abuses.) Freeing schools from the code depended upon them making sure that everything was as good as they could make it.

One missing ingredient in California is that charter schools actually get little or no scrutiny once chartered. The school districts that charter the schools are required by law to exercise oversight, but few if any actually do that. The districts are more than busy with their own schools and operating them, and they don't have the capability to audit the finances of charters, let alone insure that the educational mission is being fulfilled. Rather the charter is left on its own, and while the parents of its students should be the final judges of effectiveness, too many charters have gone off the tracks.

In other words, tax dollars are being handed to charter schools, and there is no real accountablity for results. The elected school boards don't insure that the schools they charter are run properly. Instead there are advisory boards in the charter schools that lack the resources to know whether the school shines or if it is a scam. Watch out when all this big money is pushing anything. It could be hazardous to your health.

The really big story here is that those with Big Money are now taking control of ever more of our lives and they are now getting even more "vocal" about telling us, it is for our own good.

Every facet of San Diego is being sold to the highest bidder. Our print and TV Media (except for the SD Reader) are more than happy to make it seem that everything is just "wonderful". Propaganda is alive and well in San Diego, thanks to the Ultra Wealthy's influence upon our decision makers in both Government and the Media.

A great example is VOSD, which is just a huge online cheerleader "rag" for what the Bigs want. It is disgusting that there is no longer any public debate on important issues, just some polite complaining (balanced reporting NOT) after everything has been decided. Since VOSD is against residential Solar and for Increasing Density, you can be sure that San Diego Leaders will be supporting whatever is written since they are also receiving donations to support the same issues.

This big money has no party loyalty now; both of the major parties rely on money from the 1%. What you describe in San Diego (city and county) is true of the state and the nation. But, hey, since they're motivated to do all these things because they know what's best for us, why are you (and I) alarmed? If we just go along with it, we'll be better off. Those rich folks are smarter and far better informed that we are, and they're taking care of us. Aren't they?

The country's been in business model-mode for a long time now -- after all, that's why we have Bernie Sanders running for President. But it's simplistic to say only moguls are pushing a selfish agenda backed by limitless money. When it comes to money and strategic clout and public education, privatizing charter-loving Walton and Broad and Jacobs and Bloomberg and Gates have met their match in the California Teachers Association which pushes a different selfish me-first vision that is stunning in scope and leaves public school kids in the cold.

CTA is spending big-time to overthrow the Vergara court decision which challenged last-hired-first-fired. (Union rules rule!) CTA just killed off the benchmark standardized California High School Exit Exam and is working to assure there will be no replacement. (Too much time spent on testing!) CTA opposes teacher evaluations that use even a fraction of student performance results and occur not more often than once every five years. (False accountability and harassment!) CTA upholds protracted "due process" dismissals using teacher-dominated panels. (Rigged due process is also sacred!) CTA upholds the long-time trade-off between highest teacher salaries in the nation for the largest class sizes, locally at 36+ kids. (High cost of living! Screw the kids! Where's the parent involvement!)

CTA has a total lock on elected Democratic Governor Brown, elected Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Torlakson and the elected Democratic-majority State Legislature because CTA is the richest and most powerful lobby in Sacramento and delivers campaign cash and shoe-leather at election time.

CTA even got Brown to reverse the flow of ed dollars in the new little-understood Local Control Funding Formula. This vague wrinkle sends extra tax-dollars for struggling students from Sac to union-elected school boards like San Diego's where the money will go, well, actually, the sheeple haven't the faintest clue where the money's going even though community members were supposed to be central to the decision-making.

What I'm saying is there are plenty of black hats to go around. And by the way, national teachers' unions AFT and NEA, to which CTA belongs, have endorsed Hillary Clinton, just like Broad and Jacobs and maybe some others of those rich bad boys.

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