It has been a tense spring in the realm of big-time newspaper consolidation. Back in April, Gannett, owner of more than 100 newspapers across the country, including the flagship USA Today, made a roughly $400 million takeover bid for the Tribune Publishing, owner of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and several other titles. The intervening weeks have seen a great deal of maneuvering by Tribune Chairman Michael Ferro to rebuff the bid, an effort that advanced Thursday with the news that Gannett may be backing off its bid in light of “expectations” that Tribune shareholders would back management in a critical vote.
Amid all this business, the Tribune lost its mind, in a press release. First, it renamed and rebranded itself:
“Tronc” stands for “Tribune online content,” or, as this tronc press release renders it in smaller case: “tribune online content.” So obsessed is the new, rebranded company with the Web’s lower-case vibe that its press release starts various sentences that way. Like:
tronc, or tribune online content, captures the essence of the Company’s mission.
tronc expects its common stock to begin trading as a Nasdaq-listed security under the new ticker symbol “TRNC” on June 20.
A memo sent to colleagues Thursday afternoon by chief executive Justin Dearborn eases some fears — no, the Chicago Tribune won’t become the Chicago Tronc. “Importantly, this change does not impact the name of our proud and iconic brands,” wrote Dearborn. He also addressed the Gannett bid:
Importantly, the majority of voting shareholders rejected Gannett’s symbolic, feeble and expensive withhold campaign. We cannot speculate as to what Gannett may choose to do as a result of this rejection, but the best thing we can do is to stay focused on the important work we have underway. I sincerely hope that the Gannett shareholders begin to express their displeasure to the Gannett Board regarding the corporate waste that has been perpetrated these past six weeks with their massive spend on this emblematic campaign. Gannet’s interest in our Company only reinforces the high value of our innovation and strategic vision.
Far worse than the name and punctuational idiosyncrasies is the direction in which Ferro is pushing the company. The vision calls for perhaps the most concentrated mess of buzzwords that digital publishing has ever seen, and that’s some feat. Feast on this: “tronc pools the Company’s leading media brands and leverages innovative technology to deliver personalized and interactive experiences to its 60 million monthly users.” A statement by Ferro further clouds matters, saying that the company “is focused on leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the user experience and better monetize our world-class content in order to deliver personalized content to our 60 million monthly users and drive value for all of our stakeholders. Our rebranding to tronc represents the manner in which we will pool our technology and content resources to execute on our strategy.” If that’s not enough, the company will be working to “accelerate the transformation from a legacy news company to a technology and content company, including gaining access to over 100 machine vision and artificial intelligence technology patents for news media applications.”
If all that baloney sounds like the work of a team with no background in journalism, then it accurately represents itself. As Andrew Ross Sorkin noted in the New York Times, Tribune (sorry, tronc) is stacked with executives and directors with little or no journalism experience, including Dearborn himself, who moved to Tribune/tronc from Merge Healthcare, an IBM outfit.
So: There may well be an “accelerated transformation” underway at tronc, though it’s scary to consider its destination.
Correction: This blog, somehow, called the Los Angeles Times the “Los Angeles Tribune” and cited “Tribune Co.” instead of “Tribune Publishing.”