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Tribune to LA Times: Bye-bye Beutner

By   /   Friday, September 11th, 2015  /   Comments Off on Tribune to LA Times: Bye-bye Beutner

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When SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet made a celebratory return to Los Angeles last spring, Los Angeles Times Publisher Austin Beutner was in fine form as he hosted a small gathering at the Disney concert hall.

The former investment banker described his vision for a new and more aggressive Los Angeles Times, still the region’s dominant newspaper. Soon, the Times would boldly purchase the San Diego Union-Tribune, creating an even larger enterprise.

In many areas, but particularly business and economic coverage, the new and improved LA Times was beginning to make inroads.

Today, the Beutner era is over.

On the day after Labor Day, the fast-rising star of LA’s corporate elite was summarily dismissed by the dark overlords at Tribune Co., the Chicago-based parent of the Times. Timothy Ryan, the new publisher, will move over from the Baltimore Sun, presumably with a mandate to tow the Tribune party line.

That likely means more cost cutting, less visionary leadership and, once again, a shrinking news operation.

Yes, there are whispers that Beutner might have been using his role at the Times to angle for a new job, perhaps even making a run for governor. And it was widely known that he had more than once thought about putting together a group to buy the Times. Perhaps the Tribune wanted more loyalty and less ambition.

What’s truly unfortunate is that Beutner brought to the Times the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that’s often sadly lacking in big corporate enterprises, particularly in traditional media.

The revolving door of leadership at the Times demonstrates what happens when large regional institutions are sold to corporate buyers and lose the ability to chart their own future.

We’re sorry to see the Beutner era at the Times end just as it was getting started. But somebody like Beutner won’t stay down for long. We’ll be watching to see where he turns up next.

United CEO’s departure on time

We can’t really say the same for Jeff Smisek, whose job as CEO at United-Continental Holdings, parent of United Airlines, has ended amid a federal investigation.

Smisek was at the helm during the ugly merger of United and Continental airlines, a merger that resulted in technology glitches, morale problems and schedule snafus that are only now being addressed as he departs.

But what apparently tripped up Smisek was the alleged creation of a special flight from Newark, N.J. to Columbia, S.C., possibly at the behest of the Port Authority chairman. The flight was created at the time that United was negotiating a lease with the Port Authority and is the subject of a federal probe.

To those of us on the Central Coast who’ve seen flights cut back or schedules shifted in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria, this is an outrage.

Perhaps Smisek’s departure will lead to better decision-making by United as it figures out how to serve small but important markets for business-to-business travelers.

To that end, we welcome the arrival of Oscar Munoz, a veteran transportation executive, who moves over from rail company CSX, as president and CEO.

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