Robservations: Journalism’s would-be savior ends ‘scandalous reign’

Michael Ferro

Robservations on the media beat:

As the brand new chairman and largest shareholder of Tribune Publishing in 2016, Michael Ferro declared his goal was nothing less than to save the journalism industry. "Instead of playing golf and doing stuff, this is my project — journalism," he told the Chicago Tribune. "We all want to do something great in life. Just because you made money, is that what your kids are going to remember you for? Journalism is important to save right now." Despite his earlier failure to turn around the Sun-Times, Ferro talked of creating a “global entertainment brand” at the company he renamed tronc, and harnessing artificial intelligence and machine learning to revolutionize digital media. How’d that work out? On Friday Ferro announced he was selling his entire stake in tronc — more than nine million shares — for $208.6 million. Three weeks earlier he stepped down as chairman just ahead of a report that accused him of sexual misconduct with two women. His three-year, $5 million-per-year management consulting agreement with tronc will remain in effect, according to the Tribune. In the end, Ferro made a fortune stripping company assets (including the Los Angeles Times, which he sold for $500 million) and eliminating more than a thousand newspaper jobs. With employees rising up to demand union rights in L.A. and Chicago, and no discernible plan for the future, the company appears to be in disarray. Far from saving journalism, Ferro had left a long list of newspapers much worse off than when he’d bought them. Former Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski tweeted: “What a scandalous reign atop an historic newspaper company.”

Jorge Ramirez

Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, has held the additional role of chairman of the board of the Sun-Times since a coalition of labor unions and investors acquired the newspaper last summer. Now that Ramirez has announced plans to step down as the city’s most powerful labor leader, will he continue with the Sun-Times? “All of that is still being sorted out in terms of Jorge Ramirez’s role on our board,” Sun-Times editor-in-chief Chris Fusco told “Chicago Newsroom” host Ken Davis. “He’s been a great steadying force, frankly. He has said publicly he wants to stay on. Obviously, the CFL, I believe, could say they’re cool with Jorge remaining as board chair. So we’ll see how that all shakes out. . . . I think whatever happens with Jorge. we’re going to have a pretty interesting, diverse board.”


Today marks the 70th anniversary of the first Chicago Cubs baseball broadcast on WGN-Channel 9. The Tribune Broadcasting station will celebrate by featuring classic Cubs memories and moments throughout tonight’s coverage of the Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals game, starting with the “Leadoff Man” pregame show at 5:30 p.m. “There is no relationship in TV sports we are aware of that compares to this partnership,” Bob Vorwald, executive producer and director of production at WGN, told the Tribune. “We broadcast more games over the air than all other teams combined.”

Robert K. Elder

Robert K. Elder, the Chicago digital media executive, has been named president and publisher of Blockchain News, an independent website reporting on blockchain technology, crypto assets and digital currency platforms such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. “I’m excited to build on Blockchain News’ reputation as an industry leader and help grow the company internationally,” Elder said in a statement. “Blockchain technology is reshaping the worlds of commerce, banking and real estate—and it’s exhilarating to be on the cutting edge of those changes.” Elder previously was executive director of digital product development and innovation for Crain Communications and vice president of content for Sun-Times Media Local. His resume also includes stints with the AOL Huffington Post Media Group’s, DNAinfo Chicago and the Chicago Tribune.

George Smith

George Smith, former morning news anchor and sports anchor at Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32, has landed at WKOW, the ABC affiliate in Madison, Wisconsin, as weeknight news anchor. Smith joined Fox 32’s “Good Day Chicago” in 2015 after working for WOIO, the CBS affiliate in Cleveland, and for ESPN in Chicago and Washington, D.C. “Goodbye Chicago. Hello Madison,” he tweeted. “I’m going to be anchoring news again at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. @WKOW. Very excited about this new opportunity. Love this city.”


Meet the new boss, same as the old boss: Four south suburban radio stations owned by Milner Broadcasting Enterprises have been sold to a new company — Milner Media Partners. Chicago area broker Robert L. Heymann Jr. of Media Services Group handled the family transaction involving oldies WVLI 92.7 FM, Top 40 WFAV 95.1 FM, country WIVR 101.7 FM, and country WYUR 103.7 FM. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Timothy Milner will retain operational oversight of the four stations.

Friday’s comment of the day: Kathy Posner: In February 2016 [Michael] Ferro paid $8.50 each for 5.22 million newly issued shares for $44,387,000. In Dec 2016 he bought 3.25 million more shares at $15/share for $48,750,000. That totals $93 million spent and he is getting $208 million. Even after taxes, he is doing more than okay. LOL! BUT, part of the deal of the 5.22 million shares buy was that he could not sell his stake for three years. It has not been three years. So, besides a getting 34% premium over the current price he is being allowed to exit early. What don’t we know?