Investors drove shares of Tronc down more than 18% this morning after Gannett said that it “has determined not to pursue an acquisition” of the publishing company whose properties include the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and Hartford Courant.

Gannett, which publishes USA Today, is eager to consolidate newspaper and digital properties whose finances have cratered over the last several years. Early this year it set its sights on Tronc — formerly Tribune Publishing — with a $400 million acquisition offer that management rejected.

The companies continued to talk. But Gannett’s performance weakened, and financial backers reportedly got cold feet.

Tronc “had serious doubts about Gannett’s ability to finance a transaction,” the company says this morning. Even so, they “agreed to a purchase price in mid-September and subsequently worked to finalize a Merger Agreement.”

“It is unfortunate that Gannett’s lenders made their decision to terminate their role in the transaction without the benefit of Tronc’s third quarter financials or any future projections,” it adds.

The publisher says that it’s “committed to taking the necessary steps to transform its business in response to the massive changes that have overtaken the publishing industry, supporting the company’s outstanding journalists and, above all, delivering value to shareholders.”

 

The company rebranded itself as Tronc in June saying that it reflects the fact that it’s now “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.”

The widely mocked new name “represents the manner in which we will pool our technology and content resources to execute on our strategy.”