In a purge fairly unprecedented in American newspapers, Tronc Inc. (TRNC) has replaced the senior leadership of the Los Angeles Times. With a single announcement on Monday, Aug. 21, the company announced both new leadership for the Times' business side and for its newsroom.
In a move surprising in its grand sweep, Davan Maharaj, the Times' editor and publisher for the past year and a 28-year veteran of the newsroom, sees himself replaced, with the Times returning to the traditional split jobs -- and roles -- of publisher and editor.
Accompanying Maharaj out the door: managing editor Marc Duvoisin, deputy managing editor for digital Megan Garvey and assistant managing editor of investigations Matt Doig.
In the newsroom, Jim Kirk -- who had just rejoined the company he left (when it was Tribune Publishing Co., in 2009) after resigning as editor of the just-sold Chicago Sun-Times -- becomes interim executive editor.
Perhaps most significantly, Ross Levinsohn revives a title once prestigious in the industry: publisher of the L.A. Times, while also becoming its CEO.
Tronc shares jumped 4% on Monday, closing at $13.38.
Levinsohn last loomed large in the media eye as an interim CEO of Yahoo! Inc., pre-Marissa Mayer. Many were surprised he hadn't been given the permanent job by the Yahoo board back then. A veteran of the digital media trade -- with a long stint at Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. (FOXA) and others at AltaVista, CBS Sportsline and Time Warner Inc.'s (TWX) HBO -- Levinsohn did what new big-city publishers should do: exulted in the opportunity.
In his first public words, he laid out both the opportunity and the quite difficult challenges embedded within in:
"My priority is to help ensure the Los Angeles Times continues to flourish and becomes an even more aggressive, competitive and sustainable organization. I am confident that together we will accelerate the Los Angeles Times' evolution and the digital transformation of Tronc and produce its next stage of growth -- always keeping our sights trained on our mission of producing groundbreaking and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism. ... I've been lucky to have worked with some amazing companies, legendary storytellers, world-class journalists, incredible co-workers and media titans who have helped shape our industry. I have benefited from their wisdom, and I have every expectation that this experience will be no different."
While the Times' top newsroom purge draws headlines, and deservedly so, it is Tronc's next effort at reinvention that defines the wider business changes now underway at the country's third-largest newspaper company.
In addition to the Times' personnel moves, Tronc has bid goodbye to three high-ranking corporate executives, Tim Ryan, president of publishing at Tronc; chief marketing officer Joseph Schiltz; and senior vice president of sales Ken DePaola. Further, Terry Jimenez, executive vice president and CFO, now adds to his responsibilities, taking over manufacturing and distribution operations.
In the shake-up, Tim Knight, who had worked for Tronc chairman Michael Ferro as publisher of the Sun-Times, assumes much greater responsibilities. After Knight left the Sun-Times, he had a brief stint in Cleveland and then assumed digital executive responsibilities at Tronc in February.
He now takes the reins of eight of Tronc's local newspaper properties. Those include the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel and Hartford Courant. He replaces Ryan in that role; new Times publisher Levinsohn will report to CEO Justin Dearborn.
Consider the suite of moves another company reset.
Coming off poor second-quarter financials -- down 8.6% in overall revenue and 15% in advertising -- Tronc managed to turn in numbers that compared unfavorably even with some of its ever-struggling peers. Its digital revenue results hurt the most for a company renamed last spring on a promised digital transformation: "Total revenues for troncX [the company's digital division] for the second quarter of 2017 were $58.2 million, down 5% from prior-year quarter. Advertising revenues for troncX declined by 9%." The one encouraging ray: Digital-only subscriptions increased nicely, as Tronc's game of catch-up showed it most results there.
The poor performance even forced Dearborn to acknowledge that the company was still playing catch-up. With these moves, then, the company aims to do two things: 1) jump-start the lagging digital business; 2) further streamline management and cut costs.
One big question ahead for Tronc: How much will it emphasize the L.A. Times in its new strategy? The Times' newsroom still ranks as the fourth largest in the country. More important to Tronc's success is the Times' place in the company. The Times generates both about half the company's digital traffic and, together with the San Diego Union-Tribune (now its more tightly integrated sister newspaper) about half Tronc's revenue.
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