The Los Angeles Times looks set to sharpen its focus on digital efforts now that owner Tribune Publishing has tapped a former technology executive to lead the struggling media company.
Justin Dearborn replaced Chief Executive Jack Griffin last week in a surprise shake-up. That followed Michael Ferro, founder of Internet startup Click Commerce, coming on board as Tribune’s largest shareholder and chairman.
The Times could now benefit from a “complete new direction” oriented around digital initiatives, said analyst Hamed Khorsand of BWS Financial Inc. in Woodland Hills.
“Tribune has to be more aggressive and they’re approaching that with a new CEO,” he said.
Dearborn, who had helmed Chicago medical imaging company Merge Healthcare, where Ferro was chairman until last year, said he would bring a tech-savvy mind-set to the Chicago legacy brand that runs the Times and various other newspapers.
“Tribune Publishing has a significant opportunity to leverage technology to increase the value of its content and distribution channels,” Dearborn said in a statement. “Although this is a different medium than my last technology company, it has the same challenge on how to create the highest value for our content.”
Ferro, a majority owner of Chicago Sun-Times parent Sun-Times Media Group since 2011, became Tribune’s largest shareholder earlier this month in a $44.4 million deal. He soon wrote on his LinkedIn profile: “Ferro is determined to usher the historic company into the digital age, focusing on big data and artificial intelligence technology.”
A Tribune spokeswoman said Ferro and Dearborn would not comment until an earnings release next month. A Times spokeswoman also said the paper would not immediately comment.
The Times, Tribune’s biggest newspaper in terms of daily circulation and profits, has struggled for years to squeeze digital revenue from a traditionally print product.
Tribune’s stock as of last week traded at $7.32 a share. That’s a long fall from about $25 a share in 2014, when Tribune Media ended its four-year bankruptcy and bundled newspapers into Tribune Publishing, axing off the more profitable broadcast and digital assets. Austin Beutner became the Times publisher, and the L.A. civic booster launched marketing initiatives meant to attract readers and advertisers around California-focused coverage.
He was fired in September after just a year on the job, replaced by Baltimore Sun Publisher Timothy Ryan. Beutner said then that his strategies needed time to bear fruit. He declined to comment on the new Tribune leadership.
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