Tribune Publishing chose Baltimore Sun Media Group publisher Timothy E. Ryan to lead the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, the three newspapers' owner announced Tuesday.
The promotion comes after Tribune fired the California newspapers' chief, Austin Beutner. Beutner was hired in August 2014, a week after Tribune's newspapers became a separate, publicly traded company.
Since then, Tribune has been seeking to bolster flagging print advertising revenues with strategic acquisitions, cost control and a greater focus on its Web presence. Most recently, it acquired the San Diego Union-Tribune in May for $85 million.
Ryan's appointment as CEO and publisher of the papers and the California News Group is effective immediately.
Richard J. Daniels, president & CEO of the Hartford Courant Media Group, another unit of Tribune, has taken on additional responsibilities as interim publisher of The Sun and The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. Denise Warren, Tribune's CEO of East Coast Publishing, is heading the search for a permanent replacement.
Daniels, 58, spent 23 years with the Boston Globe, helping establish boston.com and serving as the Globe's president for his last five years there. He went on to serve as CEO of GateHouse Media New England, which published 100 print titles and over 150 websites. He was in Baltimore on Tuesday meeting with leaders at The Sun.
"Together… we will continue making progress in our transformation and delivering strong results," Daniels said in an email to The Sun's and The Morning Call's staffs.
Ryan, 56, called leading the Los Angeles and San Diego papers a privilege. The L.A. Times is the fourth-largest newspaper in the country, with Sunday circulation of 821,000.
"I am committed to ensuring that these brands continue their legacy of world-class journalism and grow their already-significant voices to drive deeper engagement with consumers and marketers across all platforms," he said in a statement.
Beutner, a former investment banker and deputy mayor in Los Angeles, was dismissed for lagging financial performance and a series of expensive, politically connected executive hires, sources familiar with the situation said.
Alan Mutter, a newspaper industry analyst and consultant, said Ryan was appointed to get control of the budget. The California papers are the largest single source of Tribune Publishing's revenue, with daily circulation at the L.A. Times alone of 489,000 — not quite five times that of the Baltimore Sun.
"If you don't make the numbers as an executive, whatever business you're in, you have a short time to fix that, and if you don't fix that, you go," Mutter said.
Ryan became publisher and CEO in 2007 of the Baltimore Sun Media Group, which includes The Baltimore Sun, The Aegis, Towson Times and other weekly newspapers and other products. He also served as publisher and CEO of The Morning Call, since 2010.
In a statement announcing the appointment, Tribune Publishing CEO Jack Griffin called Ryan "one of the country's most accomplished publishing executives."
His tenure at The Sun coincided with dramatic upheaval in the newspaper industry as the Internet diluted the advertising market and readership — and Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy in 2008. The Sun's print circulation shrank from about 351,000 Sunday and 210,000 daily in 2008 to about 259,000 Sunday and 121,000 daily.
The number of staff also has dropped during that time, through a combination of attrition, buyouts and cuts. The Sun does not disclose employment numbers.
Ryan diversified revenue sources with digital subscriptions and contract printing, using The Sun's presses to print other newspapers. Last year, The Sun media group also acquired The Capital in Annapolis, the Carroll County Times and other area publications and websites.
"Tim's successful track record of strategic acquisitions, revenue diversification and digital transformation are successful models for the industry and for our company," Griffin said.
Ryan also supported the creation of a dedicated investigative journalism team at The Sun. In the past year, The Sun's staff has won a series of national awards for breaking news coverage of the Columbia Mall shooting, as well as investigations of police brutality, the public health impact of violence on city residents, and compensation claims by school workers hurt by students. The Sun also was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize last year.
"I have great affection for Baltimore and The Baltimore Sun," Ryan said in a statement. "The team at The Sun included many of the most talented and hardest working journalists and professionals I've ever met. The hard work of The Sun's employees and the loyalty of its advertisers and readers to their city, their region, their newspaper and their sports teams helped us to ride out and address many of the toughest challenges this industry has ever seen.
"The people of Baltimore are diverse, proud and devoted to their city and it was my great fortune to serve them as their newspaper's publisher."
Hamed Khorsand, an analyst with BWS Financial Inc., who follows the company, said dismissing Beutner just as Tribune Publishing began combining the two California papers took investors by surprise.
Khorsand and others attributed the change to internal management conflict.
Executives at the L.A. Times and the Chicago Tribune, the largest Tribune newspapers, historically have vied for power, said media industry analyst Ken Doctor, who called the replacement of Beutner — not a traditional newspaper man — "the reassertion of Tribune authority in Los Angeles once again."
Beutner, who earned $1.2 million in compensation in 2014, according to Tribune's proxy statement, also was part of a group with L.A. philanthropist Eli Broad that explored buying the paper in 2013. Recently, Broad reportedly tried again.
Beutner, 55, was trying to weave the L.A. Times more closely into the fabric of Los Angeles' civic life, Doctor said, hoping that revenue and readers would follow.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Beutner wrote that he had been fired. He defended his tenure at the paper, citing two recent Pulitzer Prizes, the launch of new digital offerings such as email newsletters, as well as key hires to make the newsroom more diverse.
The merger with the San Diego Union Tribune was "ahead of plan and on budget."
"Cost-cutting alone is not a path to survival in the face of continued declines in print revenue and fierce competition in the digital world," he wrote. "New sources of revenue will have to be developed and no single one will be the answer. Newspapers must recognize their strength lies in high-quality content developed by world-class journalists with the tools they need to be successful."
In Baltimore, despite the financial challenges, Ryan improved the paper's online presence and brand recognition, while not losing sight of its public mission, said Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, a business advocacy group where Ryan was a board member.
"He should be credited for keeping that mission of serving the greater public good alive, despite the difficult challenges he was confronted with," said Fry, who described Ryan as a quiet, thoughtful executive who leads by example.
"He's not like a forceful advocate that says this is the way it has to be, but he lays it out and gives his thought processes and that makes you think as well," Fry said.
Baltimore Sun reporter/blogger Scott Dance, the unit chair of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, which represents staff in the newsroom, advertising and other departments, said Ryan would be missed, even if he and the union didn't always agree.
"He had The Sun's best interests in mind, and that included recognizing the value of employees as much as he could during some tough years," Dance said.
Before joining Tribune, Ryan held executive and management positions at the Chicago Tribune and The Philadelphia Inquirer. He grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master's degree in business administration from Northwestern University.
A low-key presence known as a news junkie and devoted Notre Dame fan, he also served on the board of visitors for the University of Maryland School of Medicine and joined the board of visitors at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 2012.
UMBC president Freeman A. Hrabowski described Ryan as authentic, intellectually curious and optimistic.
"From my perspective he's done a fine job of leading The Sun at a time of what many would call the technological revolution," he said.