After Mike Ferro, the deluge?

Union-Tribune owner tronc's Chicago shakeup

Tronc gets roasted.
  • Tronc gets roasted.

First Qualcomm's Paul Jacobs, now Mike Ferro. Each has abruptly surrendered leadership of a corporate board with an oversized say in San Diego life and politics.

Last Week Tonight on newspapers

John Oliver compares journalists to Pompei residents

John Oliver compares journalists to Pompei residents

Ferro, the Chicago wheeler-dealer who took the San Diego Union-Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and a raft of other daily newspapers on a hairy ride down a slippery slope, announced early Monday, March 19 that he is stepping down as chairman of the troubled newspaper chain infamously named tronc.

Ferro spokesman Dennis Culloton told the New York Times that his boss was “burned out” and wanted to "go out on a win," apparently alluding to the sale of the L.A. Times and U-T to biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, expected to close soon.

Still owner of a big chunk of tronc, Ferro handed the chairmanship to longtime associate and tronc CEO Justin Dearborn. “I am confident that under the leadership of Justin and the rest of the board and management team Tronc will continue to deliver value for investors while executing the plan for digital transformation,” Ferro's statement said.

Since Ferro grabbed control two years ago in February 2016 of what then was called Tribune Publishing, tronc has been promising a digital makeover of its fading newspaper empire, most infamously in a June 2016 online video that became grist for a scorching John Oliver put-down that August.

"This tronc team will work with all of the local markets to harness the power of our local journalism, feed it into a funnel, and then optimize it so that we reach the biggest global audience possible," a company spokeswoman promised in the video.

But the doomsday clock kept ticking as the papers continued to slide without action from the Chicago mother ship, with Dearborn telling Wall Street analysts in a January 2017 conference call "Overall, print is attriting. We are going to attrit with the industry."

At the company's San Diego property, the list of prominent attritees includes noted business writer and columnist Dan McSwain, who announced in September 2017 he would leave his job due to "mild cognitive decline," and veteran development reporter Roger Showley, who is set to depart this spring.

Then came January's meltdown at the Los Angeles Times, in which the paper's controversial editor Lewis D’Vorkin was kicked upstairs and publisher Ross Levinsohn revealed to have been a defendant in two sexual harassment suits.

A week later, tronc announced it would unload both the Times and its little San Diego sibling to L.A. billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong for $500 million and assumption of $90 million in pension liabilities.

Update: Fortune reported Monday afternoon, March 19, that Ferro has been accused by two women of inappropriate advances.

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Also "attriting" a week ago, excellent Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne has taken a job at City Hall with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti. A big loss for readers. In his farewell column Hawthorne claimed things in the LAT newsroom were more hopeful lately, alluding to the purchase of the paper by Angeleno Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong. Still, I hear that Michael Ferro, departing tronc management, retains a separate lucrative consulting contract with the organization.

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