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Michael Ferro rebrands Tribune Company into something we don’t even know

As Hank Hill would say, “What in the Hell”?

In probably the most inane decision I have ever seen from a media executive, Tribune Publishing Chairman Michael W. Ferro announced Thursday he was changing the name of the company who publishes the Chicago Tribune from Tribune Publishing to “tronc”.

That’s right, “tronc”. With a lower case “t”.

I guess they figured “Hydra” (the name of Marvel’s criminal organization) was taken.

This moves comes as Ferro is trying to fend off a bid from rival Gannett to take over the company. In a shareholders’ meeting Thursday (closed to the press, because remember… The Chicago Way), Ferro installed his own board and rejecting Gannett’s latest offer for the company. This may force Gannett to end their bid for Tribune.

Ferro stacked his board with a bunch of flunkies – humans who do what he says when he says it. The moves of course will piss off shareholders, with one already suing Ferro for not looking out for the best interests of them.

As for the name change, the word “tronc” comes from “Tribune Online Content” according to Ferro, who is clearly shifting away from newspapers to digital content. Tribune Publishing, who separated from Tribune Media last year, owns the Chicago Tribune; Los Angeles Times; Baltimore Sun; Orlando Sentinel; the recently acquired San Diego Union-Tribune; and several other newspapers.

Tribune is also ending trading on the New York Stock Exchange and instead trade on the tech-heavy NASDAQ under the ticker TRNC on June 20, the day the name change becomes official.

Straight from the press release, here’s Chairman Ferro on the name change: “Our industry requires an innovative approach and a fundamentally different way of operating. Our transformation strategy – which has attracted over $114 million in growth capital – 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.”

Wow, what great corporate speak.

Within minutes of the announcement, the name “tronc” was universally panned and widely ridiculed on social media. Yours truly summed it up accurately:

Oh, and the logo was panned, too. But it’s fine – if it were still 1978.

And being the genius he is, Ferro failed to secure the social media rights to the name, allowing squatters to take over. And why not? The squatters are far smarter than he is.

So what does “tronc” means? According to the PR, it means “a content curation and monetization company focused on creating and distributing premium, verified content across all channels.”

Judging by the stuff I’m seeing in the Tribune lately, sitting around waiting for a shooting to happen in Englewood isn’t exactly what I call “creating content”. Reporting on a murder, a game, or the state budget impasse isn’t the same as being an artist, writing a book or a script, or creating a video game. By Ferro’s definition, criminals, idiot politicians, and Donald Trump running his mouth are the ones who are “creating content” for “tronc”. Ferro has no fucking idea what “creating content” means.

But he sure knows how to “monetize” – or make money – off it.

All of this comes as Hurricane Ferro wrecks another Chicago media entity. Ferro took over the Chicago Sun-Times in 2011 – and quickly made a name for himself. Through his Merrick Ventures, Ferro became the largest shareholder in Tribune Publishing, pushing out CEO Jack Griffin and bringing on Justin Dearborn to take his place.

Michael Ferro, the man who wants to "save journalism. "

Michael Ferro, the man who wants to “save journalism. “

When Ferro was chairman of the Sun-Times, he made several questionable decisions – such as the hiring the dim-witted Jenny McCarthy as editor of Sunday insert Splash – which is now in the Tribune. One year, the Sun-Times featured Kanye West and Kim Kardashian on its front cover – a move which sparked criticism from readers (and yours truly.) Ferro also tried to create a network of websites with the “Sun-Times” name targeted to other cities (Atlanta, Boston, etc.), which fell right on its face and made the local Sun-Times website a nightmare to navigate. Moreover, he outscored national and international news to USA Today – whose owner wants to take over the Tribune.

Then there was the time Ferro fired the entire photography staff – including veteran John H. White, who was one of the first African-Americans to be employed at the Sun-Times. And quite often, the Sun-Times often linked stories to the rival Tribune – something practically unheard of.

In the second (yes, second) “The Sun-Times is a Disgrace to Chicago” article I wrote back in 2012, this is what I said about Ferro:

“The mission is simple: Ferro acts like an evil scientist and in his bid for world domination (or at least become the region’s biggest media baron), he is experimenting to see how much celebrity fluff and irrelevant news items he can stuff into the newspaper, so he can turn readers into mindless zombies. His plan is to dumb down Chicagoans (which is incredibly easy to do), so they can only care about who Jennifer Lopez is seeing this week and which cast member of Gossip Girl they would like to sleep with while corrupt politicians continue to fleece our pockets and the quality of life in Chicago continues to decline. Ferro is kind of like Dr. Clayton Forrester from Mystery Science Theater 3000 – but with even less brains. It seems Sun-Times readers are trapped on the Satellite of Love and forced to watch bad B-movies every day- something the paper is rivaling in the quality department. This Ferro idiot needs to board the Enterprise and go back to his home planet.”

It’s 2016 and sadly, Dr. Forrester Ferro has nearly accomplished his mission, and taking over the Chicago Tribune – whose reputation was already damaged from the previous regime of Randy Michaels and Sam Zell – was the last piece of the puzzle. Idiots like him in charge has killed journalism in our city, at a time when Chicago’s image is still taking a beating from other press. If the Trib or Sun-Times were more influential – you know, reporters who ask questions instead of settling for sound bites – and not punchlines to a joke, would Illinois have a budget impasse right now? Politicians no longer fear the papers – they can do what they want, when they want.

Instead of concentrating on journalism, companies are emphasizing flashier names like “tronc” over the content they “create”, even though the “content” they’ve been creating lately is nothing but bullshit.

Chicago was once a great newspaper town. It isn’t any longer. Hell, even the name “newspaper” isn’t cool enough for “tronc” anymore.

“Hail tronc”.

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