Tribune Publishing Co. hired Austin Beutner to lead the Los Angeles Times Media Group, bringing in a former deputy mayor of the city who once tried to buy the namesake newspaper with billionaire Eli Broad.
Beutner starts immediately as publisher and chief executive officer of the unit and replaces Eddy Hartenstein, according to a statement today. Beutner, 54, was a co-founder of investment bank Evercore Partners Inc., and will report to Jack Griffin, CEO of Chicago-based Tribune Publishing.
Tribune’s newspaper unit, which includes the Chicago Tribune, was spun off last month from its TV business. Beutner’s banking background suggests his appointment may be seen as prelude to a sale of the Los Angeles Times, said Paul Sweeney, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.
“He clearly has the skill set to do that,” Sweeney said by telephone. “He’s got lots of investment banking experience.”
The split of the publishing unit from the broadcaster, now called Tribune Media Co., follows a similar strategy taken by other publishers, such as Rupert Murdoch’s breakup of News Corp., as investors increase pressure to separate print assets from faster-growing video businesses.
Sweeney, citing the purchase of the Washington Post last year by Jeff Bezos, said there are many billionaires who could acquire the Los Angeles Times. David Geffen, the co-founder of DreamWorks SKG, is a potential candidate, he said.
“There seems to be no shortage of individuals interested in buying iconic newspaper brands,” Sweeney said.
Earlier this year, Eli Broad, the co-founder of KB Home, told Los Angeles Magazine that he and Beutner were looking into acquiring the newspaper.
Last month, Murdoch, chairman of Wall Street Journal owner News Corp., said antiquated media ownership laws are preventing him from getting his hands on Tribune -- referring to U.S. government restrictions that forbid ownership of TV stations and newspapers in the same market.
Beutner, who at 29 become the youngest partner at Blackstone Group, became deputy mayor for Los Angeles in 2010, under then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He serves as chairman of the board at CalArts and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy after an $8.3 billion takeover by billionaire Sam Zell, and emerged in 2012. Tribune Media owns or operates 42 local TV stations and WGN America.