At Helm: Tronc’s Michael Ferro.

At Helm: Tronc’s Michael Ferro. Photo by Getty Images

This month caps a tumultuous year for the Los Angeles Times and its parent, tronc Inc. The Chicago media company began last year as an old-line newspaper business with a traditional newspaper name – Tribune Publishing – and spent the next 12 months transforming into “Tribune online content,” or “tronc.” If that weren’t enough, it relented on a hostile takeover attempt after months of resistance, only to see the deal collapse at the eleventh hour.

The tumult started last February, when technology executive Michael Ferro announced that his company, Merrick Ventures, had taken a nearly 17 percent stake in the business and that he would become chairman.

The new leader purged Tribune Publishing’s chief executive, Jack Griffin, and moved Times Publisher Timothy Ryan into a corporate position. In an unprecedented move, Times Editor Davan Maharaj was given the additional title of publisher, merging the business and editorial side of the newspaper under a single leader.

Terry Jimenez, the company’s chief financial officer, called 2016 a “transition year” in an investors presentation last week.

“Our goal is to outperform our peers,” he said.

“We think over the long term we’re set up to do just that.”

Justin Dearborn, who replaced Griffin as chief executive last February, also emphasized the long-term prize.

“We have to create a billion-dollar online media business,” he told investors.

But the steps might be small and slow.

Tronc, with a $495 million market capitalization, is aiming to boost earnings this year even as its revenue is projected to stay virtually flat. Analysts tracking the company said nailing this goal while setting a foundation for growth could be a tall order, especially as print media continue their audience and advertising decline.

While the company saw paid digital-only subscriptions, a key metric, rise over the past year, its third-quarter earnings declined after two quarters in the black.

“They have lofty expectations of how they’ll make it a digital media company,” said Nishen Radia, a managing partner at West L.A. investment bank FocalPoint Partners. “They’re going to get a bit of leeway from the market to execute their plan. But next year, they’re going to need to show meaningful growth.”

A tronc spokeswoman said the company could not comment during a quiet period ahead of its Feb. 22 earnings release.

A Times representative declined an interview request.

Tech veteran

Ferro entered the picture just a couple of years after Tribune Co. spun off its newspapers into Tribune Publishing.

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