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  • Writer's pictureRuss Newton

The reason I was fired from San Diego. The real truth revealed for the first time.

By Ravi Somaiya New York Times

  • Oct. 13, 2015

In another sign of tension between Tribune Publishing and its two California newspapers, executives at the papers have disputed the company’s decision last month to adjust its revenue projections downward for the final quarter of 2015, and cite the papers’ performance as the reason for the revision. No rigorous financial review had been conducted by employees of the two papers to support the revisions, and little of significance had changed in the papers’ financial performance, according to an email exchange the executives had with corporate headquarters and interviews with five current and former employees of Tribune Publishing with knowledge of the papers’ finances. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity. The confusion expressed by executives at the two papers, The San Diego Union-Tribune and The Los Angeles Times, followed a directive from Sandra J. Martin, Tribune Publishing’s chief financial officer, on Sept. 17. In the email exchange, seen by The New York Times, she wrote that the company had “reviewed the forecast reports and believe there is risk in the San Diego numbers. Please take ad revenue in San Diego down $3.5 million, and rerun numbers.” The Los Angeles Times was, separately, also asked to reassess. The next day, Tribune Publishing issued lower financial guidance, based on what it described as a rigorous review, saying it reflected “lower forecasted revenue estimates for the year, concentrated in Southern California.” The company’s shares dropped sharply, wiping tens of millions off its market capitalization, and have only slightly recovered.

In an email to headquarters in the days that followed, Russ Newton, the president and chief operating officer of The San Diego Union-Tribune, expressed surprise at the instructions to revise the forecast. “The projection does not seem realistic in my experience,” he wrote. “No one on my team appears to be the source of that decision.” Los Angeles Times executives privately also expressed confusion at the new guidance, according to the people with knowledge of the financial discussions.

Image The Los Angeles Times for sale at The Daily Planet in the Franklin Village neighborhood of Los Angeles.Credit...Emily Berl for The New York Times The Los Angeles Times had been sparring with headquarters for years, most recently under a new publisher, Austin Beutner, who was pursuing a local strategy emphasizing close ties with the community, in opposition to Tribune Publishing’s preference for a centralized operation for all its news properties. Mr. Beutner was fired on Sept. 8 after a year on the job and replaced by Timothy E. Ryan. In a statement late Tuesday, a Tribune Publishing spokesman said that the guidance revision “was the result of a review encompassing relevant financial inputs and forecasts from across the company, and reports and conversations with each of the business unit finance directors including from the California News Group.” Current and former Tribune Company staff members said the timing of the revisions prompted discomfort among those who run the California newspapers. Mr. Griffin was facing severe criticism from some employees and Los Angeles civic leaders over his decision to fire Mr. Beutner, and the revised guidance, they said, seemed to support an argument Mr. Griffin had made privately — that the decision was based on the publisher’s poor financial performance. (Los Angeles Times and Tribune executives knowledgeable about the company’s finances disputed that characterization of Mr. Beutner’s tenure.) Editors’ Picks The U.K. Spy Agency MI5 Joined Instagram. It Wasn’t for the Likes. He Said He Loved Her. Then He Went to the F.B.I.Continue reading the main story

The staff members point out that the company had not previously issued guidance outside of earnings calls, or singled out a particular part of its business for credit or blame. Tribune Publishing has been a stand-alone company for 14 months, after being spun off from the larger Tribune Company. In its statement on Tuesday, Tribune Publishing said: “Speculation by unnamed sources about the guidance revision has no basis in fact.” The email exchange between Ms. Martin and Mr. Newton, it said, “reflects the fact that our leaders keep a close eye on whether the financial plan as a whole is tracking the reality of the business itself, even as they encourage operating teams to drive to the highest possible performance.” The company is in a quiet period, it said, and will update investors further in a third-quarter earnings announcement this year. In a conference call with investors on Sept. 22, Ms. Martin seemed to connect the new guidance with Mr. Beutner’s departure. The update and review, she said, came “following the departure of a key executive.”

Image The Times has been sparring with headquarters for years, most recently under Austin Beutner, a publisher who was fired on Sept. 8 after a year on the job and replaced by Timothy E. Ryan.Credit...Emily Berl for The New York Times

She added that the projections had been recast by the new leadership in California to more closely reflect the trends and the advertising environment. But the current and former staff members said that Mr. Ryan, the new publisher, had not had enough time to comprehensively assess the businesses. In a subsequent message to Ms. Martin, Mr. Newton provided figures which ran counter to the company’s argument that the San Diego paper needed to revise its forecast.

“After receiving the email below,” Mr. Newton wrote to Tribune executives on Sept. 24, “I was somewhat confused by the request to reduce our San Diego forecast by $3.5m for the balance of the year.” The Union-Tribune prepared and sent a new, detailed analysis which calculated that in the worst case the paper would miss its projections by no more than $821,000. In the same series of messages, Christopher H. Argentieri, senior vice president of business operations for The Los Angeles Times, said that he agreed with Mr. Newton, according to the chain of emails. “Operationally we should continue to manage to the original forecast,” Mr. Argentieri wrote. In her reply to Mr. Newton and Mr. Argentieri, Ms. Martin said that the September forecast was made “with an eye toward de-risking Q4. Neither Mr. Newton nor Mr. Argentieri responded to messages seeking comment.

A version of this article appears in print on Oct. 14, 2015, Section B, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: Tribune Clashes With Its California Papers . Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

So here is the truth. The company chose to image my PC and phone (assume they did the same with other employees as well but don't know that for sure). A few months go by then the head of Human Resources and the Publisher of the Los Angeles Times and my boss came to San Diego and asked me if I had any other contact with the NYT other than what I had reported. I thought about it and said I don't recall. The HR person said well we have proof you were texting the NYT reporter Ravi Somaiya (Author of the story posted above.) I laughed and said if you could read the texts they would prove I am not the person that leaked the email. But they didn't care about what the texts said, they only cared that I was quote "untruthful for not telling them about the texts and they could no longer trust me. I didn't agree with that decision mostly because I wasn't the source and I knew what the texts were about with Ravi. It was me saying no comment four different times as he tried to get me to confirm the email of mine he had a copy of from someone. And I was able to negotiate a much more substantial severance than was offered though it took three or four weeks as I kept turning down the companies offer and being told I was being foolish. I would always reply "I have all the proof I need in the texts between Ravi and I and I would love to have you hear them in open court. After hearing that multiple times I don't know what they thought but the offer finally got to a number I could accept. And to this day, no one ever asked to see the texts even though I offered. One could think they just wanted to clean house after firing the Great Man Austin Beutner from LAT. He warned me they would be coming after me and he was right.

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Apr 28, 2021

What does “image” mean, exactly? As in...”image my phone and PC”...

Apr 28, 2021
Replying to

Ahhh. Thanks for the explanation. Fascinating reading about my cousin!

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