Tronc Inc. Chief Executive Justin C. Dearborn trumpeted the news last week that Ross Levinsohn would be the new chief executive and publisher of the Los Angeles Times as an opportunity for the financially troubled newspaper to elevate its digital efforts.

Levinsohn brings experience from Yahoo, and Fox Interactive Media, among other media companies, and a more recent stint as co-founder and partner at boutique consulting firm Whisper Advisors to the task (see related column item, left).

His new job will pay him at least $1 million a year, comprising $600,000 in regular salary and an additional $100,000 a quarter, according to recent Securities and Exchange Commission filings by the Times’ parent company, Chicago-based tronc.

At least one media analyst signaled that there’s little margin of error for the latest leader of the Times.

“Ross (Levinsohn) has a very long experience and is well-thought of in the digital media space, particularly with digital advertising sales,” said Paul Sweeney, a media analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “He brought that experience to Yahoo, and now he can bring it to tronc. If you are tronc, you are saying … this is kind of our last gasp, from a management perspective, to put all our chips on the table to make it in a digital world.”

Levinsohn arrived last week in a shakeup that ousted Davan Maharaj, former executive editor-in-chief and publisher, and two other top editors. Veteran Chicago news executive Jim Kirk, who most recently served as publisher and editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, was named interim editor.

The leadership change comes on the heels of tronc’s second-quarter earnings report, which saw profits of $6.8 million on revenue of $369.8 million, down 8.6 percent compared with the same period last year. The company also reported an increase in digital subscriptions, fueled largely by new digital-only subscribers to the Times.

Sweeney questioned whether that would be enough.

“We just haven’t seen a lot of success across the newspaper industry to profitably migrate from print to digital,” he said.

He predicted that the Times might go to a limited print publishing schedule in the future, possibly publishing only on days of traditionally high readership, Thursday through Sunday.

Sweeney also said the management shakeup might reflect the recent high-profile struggle for control of the Times between L.A.’s wealthiest person, biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, and tronc Chairman Michael Ferro.

Soon-Shiong, tronc’s second-largest shareholder, was forced out as vice chairman of the company’s board earlier this year. He has reportedly denied reports that he has intentions of buying the paper.

A spokeswoman for Soon-Shiong said last week he wouldn’t comment on the management changes.

“That whole ownership structure of tronc has been very volatile,” analyst Sweeney said. “That unfortunately bleeds down to the local paper level. That’s what’s going on here.”

– Diane Haithman

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