LA Times Gets New Publisher -- WSJ

By Lukas I. Alpert Features Dow Jones Newswires

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (August 22, 2017).

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Tronc Inc. is undergoing a broad management shake-up at its flagship newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, bringing in internet and media industry veteran Ross Levinsohn as its new chief executive and publisher.

Mr. Levinsohn, who was an interim CEO at Yahoo and had a top role at Fox Interactive Media, replaces Davan Maharaj, a 28-year veteran of the Times, Tronc announced on Monday. Mr. Maharaj had been named publisher in 2016 in addition to his role as editor in chief as Tronc moved to consolidate the roles across its 11 daily newspapers.

Several other senior editors at the paper were also dismissed, the LA Times reported.

Jim Kirk, who until recently had served as publisher and editor in chief of the Chicago Sun-Times until being hired by Tronc earlier this month following a failed acquisition bid, was named interim executive editor to spearhead the search for a new editor in chief, the company said.

The moves highlight the central role the Times has played for Tronc in its efforts to digitally transform a company that over the years has endured a long-running bankruptcy, a spinoff, an ugly shareholder fight and a spurned takeover effort by rival Gannett Co.

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All this while, the newspaper industry has suffered dramatic declines in print advertising and slow growth in digital ad revenue as readership has shifted online.

"We haven't really progressed to where we need to be," said Tronc Chief Executive Justin Dearborn. "Ross is pretty unique in the market, and he has background and history of executing digital transformations."

Mr. Levinsohn also served as CEO of Guggenheim Digital Media for a period after his term at Yahoo, where he was succeeded by Marissa Mayer in 2012. While working for News Corp.'s Fox digital properties in the early 2000s, he oversaw the acquisition of Myspace and helped create the company that is now Hulu. (Since then, 21st Century Fox split with News Corp, owner of The Wall Street Journal, in 2013.)

In a statement, Tronc said Mr. Levinsohn will be tasked with expanding the Times' global footprint, content initiatives and revenue opportunities, among other things.

Tronc, which had previously been known as Tribune Publishing Co. until June 2016, has pushed hard toward reinventing itself as a digitally-focused media company, but has struggled to find its footing amid dramatic changes to the media landscape online.

Earlier this month, the company reported a 9% drop in digital ad revenue in the second quarter from a year earlier. It has boosted its digital-only subscriber totals across its titles to 220,000, but remains far behind big publishers like the New York Times and the Journal.

At the same time, the company has battled through a period of turbulent management since being spun off in 2014 from TV assets now called Tribune Media Co. In early 2016, it brought in investor Michael Ferro to help shore up its books, but he quickly orchestrated a management takeover, forcing out its CEO and much of its board.

He then fended off the takeover effort by Gannett, in part, by bringing in billionaire biotech entrepreneur, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, as an investor. The two have since engaged in a public shareholder battle for control.

Tronc has tried to re-envision itself as "a content curation and monetization company" built around machine vision and artificial intelligence technology to forge a path into a digital future -- efforts that have faced criticism both within and outside the company.

Write to Lukas I. Alpert at lukas.alpert@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 22, 2017 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)