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Tribune Publishing Co.’s Turbulent Year Continues with New CEO and Chairman

Exploring Chicago's River North NeighborhoodExploring Chicago's River North Neighborhood
The publisher of the Chicago Tribune has endured an incredibly turbulent 12 months. George Rose Getty Images

The Tribune Publishing Co. (TRCO) announced Thursday that Justin Dearborn has stepped down as CEO and chairman, positions he had held since 2016 and 2018, respectively, as talks of newspaper industry mergers grow.

It’s been a rough year for Tronc, which owns iconic newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News and the Baltimore Sun. Last March, Michael Ferro retired from the board of directors just hours before Fortune published a story detailing sexual harassment allegations against him from two women outside the company. Ferro denied the allegations, and Dearborn stepped up as chairman.

Just before his retirement, Ferro sold the crown jewel Los Angeles Times to biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong for $500 million. At the end of 2018, Tribune Publishing rejected a takeover bid from McClatchy, the owner of newspapers including the Miami Herald and the Sacramento Bee, the Wall Street Journal reports. Last month, Tribune executives reached out to Gannett about reviving the merger talks that had fallen apart in 2016, sources told the WSJ. Gannett wasn’t receptive at the time, but that position may change in light of the hostile takeover bid for Gannett by MNG Enterprises last week.

Dearborn’s dual roles will be filled by two current Tribune Publishing executives: Timothy P. Knight will take over as CEO and David Dreier will be chairman of the board.

Knight joined Tronc in February 2017 as president overseeing local markets. Previously he was CEO of Advance Ohio, and earlier CEO and chairman of Newsday. Knight said in a statement: “It is an honor to assume this role at such an exciting time for our company. Delivering high-quality local journalism has never been more important and Tribune Publishing’s iconic brands continue to inform, inspire and engage the communities we serve. We are confident that we have the right assets, people and strategy to continue to transform our business while investing in world-class journalism. We also believe there are attractive consolidation opportunities within the media industry that will enable us to accelerate our strategy.”

Dreier was a congressman representing California for more than three decades before joining Tronc as a director in 2016. Dreier thanked Dearborn for his service in the statement: “Over the past three years, he has improved Tribune Publishing’s financial position by building the infrastructure necessary to convert our award-winning content into revenue through an enhanced digital strategy. During his tenure, digital only subscribers have more than tripled and we have significantly reduced our debt and pension obligation. Our share price has increased 80% and our market capitalization has more than doubled.”