On Thursday, Tribune Publishing Co. LLC said CEO Justin Dearborn stepped down from the helm of the Chicago-based company. After nearly three years of leading the company through a fiscally perilous period, Dearborn will be succeeded by President Timothy P. Knight, while board member and former Congressman David Dreier is expected to become chairman.
The news about Dearborn’s departure follows a difficult period for a company already struggling with shareholder fights – on top of unrelenting fiscal issues. Furthermore, Tribune Publishing rejected a takeover by rival McClatchy Co. a little over a month ago. Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the matter, reported the cash-and-stock offer valued the company at $16.50 a share.
In 2016, Tribune fended off an unsolicited $15/share takeover offer by Gannett Co. However, more recently – but shortly before Gannett became the target of a hedge fund backed takeover attempt – Tribune approached Gannett to possibly revive merger talks.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Gannett officials were not receptive of the merger. Dearborn, 47, took the reins from leading shareholder Michael Ferro, who was forced to step aside amid sexual harassment allegations stemming from outside the company. Ferro has not addressed those allegations.
A bitter fight between shareholders Ferro and biotech billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong further bruised the company brand. Last year, Tribune sold the L.A. Times – its flagship publication – to Soon-Shiong, who also owns a 25% stake in Tribune Publishing.
According to Bloomberg News, Tribune was subjected to industry-wide ridicule in 2016 after renaming itself to Tronc Inc. to court a new audience. Dearborn changed the name back to the legacy Tribune Publishing in 2018. But the company’s woes didn’t end there.
In December, several papers, including the LA Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune, suffered printing and distribution delays because of a foreign cyber-attack on Tribune’s servers. While the L.A. Times is not owned by Tribune any longer, The Times and other papers continue to use Tribune’s systems. According to Dearborn’s memo, staffers had to create “workarounds” to get the Saturday editions printed.
Tribune also announced the departure of executives Ross Levinsohn and Mickie Rosen, the CEO and president, respectively, of Tribune Interactive (the digital arm of Tribune Publishing).