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Burkle's Yucaipa hires former Times publisher

March 16, 2007|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

Former Los Angeles Times Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson has taken an executive position with Yucaipa Cos., the private investment firm that last year joined in a bid to buy the newspaper's parent, Tribune Co. of Chicago.

Johnson will be a principal in Los Angeles-based Yucaipa, founded by supermarket magnate Ron Burkle, and will oversee its current media interests, which include parts of former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV channel and Source Interlink, a major distributor of magazines and CDs.

Johnson gained wide attention last year when he and then-Editor Dean Baquet defied demands by Tribune to cut the editorial staff of The Times. Weeks later, Tribune forced Johnson to resign. Not long after, Baquet also left under pressure.

Yucaipa executives said Thursday that the hiring of the former newspaper boss was unrelated to the private equity firm's joint bid in November for Tribune, whose holdings include The Times, 10 other daily newspapers, 23 television stations and the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

Burkle made that proposal in partnership with fellow Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad. It would have required heavy borrowing to pay a large dividend to Tribune shareholders.

But the plan has apparently not gained traction with Tribune directors, who were supposed to decide the company's future as soon as this weekend. But the board is now expected to put off a decision until later this month.

In another media play, Yucaipa last year joined with the Newspaper Guild in an attempt to buy newspapers that were once part of the Knight Ridder chain. The bid failed.

The investment firm said Thursday that Johnson would "lead efforts to explore additional media investment opportunities."

"This is a chance to take advantage of my experience in the media, to work in a related field and to be a part of what I think is a great organization," Johnson said.

The 47-year-old executive said he met Burkle during the course of his duties as publisher of The Times.

He declined to say how long they had been discussing his move to Yucaipa.

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