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L.A. Times publisher is named chief executive of Tribune Co.

Eddy W. Hartenstein will remain publisher of Los Angeles Times Media Group, but names former Times executive Kathy Thomson as its president and chief operating officer.

May 07, 2011|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times
  • Eddy W. Hartenstein says he plans to continue to push the company into providing more information and content on digital platforms.
Eddy W. Hartenstein says he plans to continue to push the company into providing… (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)

Tribune Corp., owner of the Los Angeles Times, is putting new leadership at the top as it prepares to emerge from its prolonged bankruptcy.

Times Publisher Eddy W. Hartenstein on Friday was named chief executive of the Chicago-based corporation, which also owns KTLA-TV Channel 5, the Chicago Tribune and other media properties.

Hartenstein will remain publisher of Los Angeles Times Media Group. With his new responsibilities, he named Kathy Thomson as president and chief operating officer of Times Media. Thomson is a former Times executive who worked with Hartenstein for more than a decade at DirectTV.

For the last seven months, Hartenstein has served on the four-member executive council that has run Tribune since the resignation of Chief Executive Randy Michaels.

"The board feels strongly that it is in Tribune's best interest to have one person providing strategic vision and day-to-day direction for the company and its employees as we prepare to emerge from the Chapter 11 process," Tribune Chairman Sam Zell said in a statement.

Hartenstein's chief challenge will be to keep improving the company's bottom line. The process has been mired by stop-and-start negotiations with creditors and strained bankruptcy court hearings.

When Tribune does finally emerge from bankruptcy, a new board of directors will be named — and Hartenstein acknowledged that it may want to pick its own chief executive.

But he doesn't see himself as a caretaker, and said he expects his management team will prove its mettle to the new bosses.

"I don't do anything on an interim basis," he said. "I am pretty much full-throttle."

Hartenstein, 60, became the top executive of The Times in 2008 and has worked to stabilize the business, which has been plagued by declining revenue, falling circulation and a series of layoffs that sliced the number of journalists employed by the newspaper nearly in half.

Its fortunes have brightened recently. The Times won two Pulitzer Prizes last month, including the coveted Public Service award for its exposure of corruption in the city of Bell.

And this week, The Times posted an increase in Sunday circulation for the six months ended March 31. Daily circulation dipped 1.8%, but it was the smallest daily decline in six years.

"It has been a better period for the Los Angeles Times," said Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla. "The L.A. Times went from being a laggard among papers for its website and digital properties to catching up."

Tribune is also seeing better financials. Last year, the company's revenue rose 1% to about $3.2 billion, and operating cash flow increased 28%, to $635 million.

Hartenstein said he plans to continue to push the company into providing more information and content on digital platforms.

"Mobile devices in general and tablets in particular will be part of our future," Hartenstein said, adding that the first of these platforms could be rolled out by The Times in the coming weeks.

A Los Angeles native, Hartenstein became publisher of The Times after leading DirecTV Group, the satellite TV provider, from 1994 to 2004. He developed the idea for using satellites to beam TV programming into homes while at Hughes Electronics Corp., the defense contractor and satellite maker acquired by General Motors.

He remains connected to the satellite-based entertainment business, serving as the non-executive chairman of Sirius XM Radio Inc. He also is on the boards of Broadcom Corp., SanDisk Corp. and the City of Hope hospital in Duarte.

Thomson, 44, is returning to The Times after serving for 18 months as a vice president of FLO TV Inc., a subsidiary of Qualcomm Inc. that the San Diego technology company is shutting down.

She was chief of staff at The Times from September 2008 to 2009. Before that, she worked closely with Hartenstein at DirecTV, eventually rising to senior vice president of sales and marketing.

Thomson said that increasing The Times' digital presence is critical "to encourage newer readers to enjoy the fine work and content that is already being done."

Hartenstein said he will remain based in Los Angeles, but expects to be "racking up a lot of frequent-flier miles" on business trips to Tribune headquarters in Chicago.

Michaels, the former Tribune chief executive, resigned under fire after allegations that he fostered a hostile and sexist work environment. He was replaced by a four-member executive council that consisted of Hartenstein, Chicago Tribune Publisher Tony Hunter, Tribune Co. Chief Investment Officer Nils Larsen and Don Liebentritt, who was in charge of the company's Chapter 11 restructuring.

Tribune sought bankruptcy protection in December 2008 after a leveraged buyout a year earlier by Zell, a Chicago-based real estate mogul, that had saddled it with more than $12 billion in debt.

Hartenstein said his job will be to focus on the company's operations regardless of how long the bankruptcy continues.

"The bankruptcy process is between two sets of creditors with some large issues and some large numbers between them," he said. "But if we improve the business and the enterprise we are doing, everything will work out."

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