Michael Ferro Is Amused By Your Reactions To #Tronc

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Jun 7, 2016 6:37PM

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"Go home Tribune, you're #tronc," and other fun slogans for the Tribune Publishing company's rebranding as tronc have been filling our Twitter feeds all week.

Many wondered what bizarre, alternate-universe business playbook the Tribune's fledgling board chairman, Michael Ferro, was reading when he supported the peculiar rebranding, which puts a cynical corporate tone around the journalistic works of the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and other legacy Tribune Publishing newspapers. Ferro, who is perhaps most widely known in Chicago for firing the Sun-Times' photographers as head of that paper's parent company, went on CNBC Monday to explain himself a bit more.

It's already been a hard year for the media company. Last year it split off from the once-bankrupt Tribune Company in an effort to ready the company's assets for sale. In one of the weirder outcomes of the split, the Chicago Tribune, among other Tribune Publishing papers, had to pay for office space in it decades-long home the Tribune Tower.

Recently Gannett, another legacy media company, offered to by Tribune Publishing for a price nearly 60 percent higher than its value on the stock market. When the board, led by Ferro, rejected this bid, Gannett offered even more. Ferro's board still said no, promising that the company would be worth even more than Gannett's $15-a-share offer soon, once it pushes through a series of vague re-branding and new strategies designed to "monetize content"—a cynic's way of saying, to make people pay for journalism, even when that journalism has no value.

Ferro has been roundly criticized for turning down Gannett's make-money-fast offer, but, as he told CNBC, he doesn't mind the haters.

"It's been fun reading the Twitter feeds," he said, understatedly referring to the deluge of Tweets devoted to mocking the name #tronc within hours of the new name and logo's release to employees. Ferro explained that the name "Tribune" did not belong to Tribune Publishing, and it had to rebrand or face paying money to Tribune Media (its twin from last year when businessmen broke up the Tribune Company) to lease the name the same way it must lease office space in its former homes.

But Ferro says he can raise the company's value to $15 a share, cut costs, and "raise journalists' salaries across the board" in the process. With raises few and far between in the journalism industry, this could be the salve for tronc's wounded egos. Or there could be hope yet—Gannett announced Tuesday that it is still pursuing its bid for Tribune Publishing, due to news that as many as 40 percent of shareholders withheld their support for the company's directors at a June 2 meeting. And in one of the bigger insults to the entire concept of tronc, Gannett reps suggested that the "rapid series of changes taking place inside the Tribune" may "diminish the value of Tribune to Gannett." Ouch.