As Tronc announced today’s closing of its sale of the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune for $590 million including the assumption of liabilities, multiple press reports said it plans to surrender its controversial name.
Short for “Tribune Online Content” (and also an obscure bit of British slang), Tronc as a corporate brand tipped into self-satire when it was unveiled in 2016. Along with its rainbow-colored logo, the company used unnerving promotional videos to roll out bizarrely ambitious plans to pump out hundreds of videos a day and rely on artificial intelligence to target readers. While the Times, Baltimore Sun and other newspapers in its portfolio have storied, Pulitzer-winning roots, Tronc promoted a digital run-and-gun strategy that unsettled many editorial staffers.
The publishing arm of Tribune split off from the rest of Tribune Media in 2014 after the whole company emerged from bankruptcy. Driving its eccentric assault on the norms of publishing (and syntax) was former chairman Michael Ferro, who exited the company last March to “retire” at age 51, just before a report of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against him surfaced.
The return of the Times to a local owner — billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong — is a major milestone for the once-elite newspaper, which has endured years of turmoil, which reached a crescendo in recent months. The paper’s editorial staffers also voted overwhelmingly to unionize several months ago amid the controversial run of top editor Lewis D’Vorkin.
As an antitode to the tenure of D’Vorkin and former publisher Ross Levinsohn, Soon-Shiong brought in Norman Pearlstine, a 50-year veteran of East Coast mainstays like Time Inc. and the Wall Street Journal to be executive editor of the Times. He replaces Jim Kirk, who had been installed in the top editorial role seven months ago. Pearlstine, 75, had been advising Soon-Shiong on the ramp-up at the Times and earned his confidence.
During a newsroom gathering today at which Pearlstine was introduced, Soon-Shiong quipped, “Let’s put our Tronc in the trunk and be done.” In an interview with the Times, the new owner praised Pearlstine’s abilities. “Not only does he have amazing experience with the full knowledge of how a newsroom runs — but he’s amazingly modern and forward-looking,” Soon-Shiong said. “There’s no agenda, other than to make this the best journalistic institution. We’re lucky to be able to capture him.”
The new name for the company has not been confirmed. Soon-Shiong has expressed a preference for restoring the Tribune name, calling the current one “silly.”
Investors cheered the developments, sending Tronc shares up nearly 4% to $17.99.
For a time, “Tronc” was a trending topic on Twitter. Here were a few of the reactions and inside accounts: