Michael Ferro who happens to be the majority owner of the Chicago Sun-Times, is now officially the largest shareholder in Chicago-based Tribune Publishing, parent company of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and other major daily newspapers
With Ferro’s Merrick Media becoming the largest shareholder of Tribune Publishing stock and Ferro being named non-executive chairman of the board, the eventual merger of the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times would appear inevitable.
A self-styled tech entrepreneur, Ferro has been a controversial figure since he acquired the Sun-Times in December 2011. While failing to improve the paper’s digital presence, he has made drastic cuts to the print product and editorial operation. Once a lightning rod for criticism, Ferro more recently has lowered his public profile and distanced himself from the Wrapports brand. In 2015 he took his name off the editorial masthead of the Sun-Times.
As for now Ferro is presently stepping down as chairman of Wrapports and renouncing all operating involvement with the Sun-Times. Meanwhile, he shall continue to be Wrapports’ largest investor, the Sun-Times will be put into a holding company, to be chaired by investor Bruce Sagan. Wrapports, to be chaired by investor John Canning, will maintain ownership of the Chicago Reader, Splash, High School Cube and other properties.
The purchase gives Ferro, a successful technology entrepreneur and nascent media baron, a nearly 17 percent stake in Tribune Publishing and a significant say in the direction of the legacy newspaper company as it navigates its digital future. Ferro, 49, will become non-executive chairman of Tribune Publishing’s board.
“I am excited to be working with the company’s award-winning brands,” Ferro said in a statement. “I see tremendous upside to create value and put Tribune Publishing at the forefront of technology and content to benefit journalists and shareholders.”
“As nutty and crazy as he is, Ferro has kept the Sun-Times alive,” said a source close to both companies. “You have to give him credit for that.”
In addition to the Chicago Tribune, Tribune Publishing owns 10 other daily newspapers (including the Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun) and more than 60 digital properties.
Under terms of the transaction, Ferro’s firm cannot acquire more than 25 percent of the outstanding shares and cannot sell its stake in Tribune Publishing for three years.
Eddy Hartenstein, who has served as Tribune Publishing’s non-executive chairman since its August 2014 spin off from Tribune Media, will remain on the board.
Ferro will retain an ownership interest in Wrapports, the investment group that bought the Sun-Times in December 2011, but he will relinquish “all operating involvement” with the newspaper, said Dennis Culloton, a Wrapports spokesman. Ferro was not available for comment.
In an October interview on “Bloomberg Markets,” Ferro was decidedly upbeat in his assessment of journalism. “By the way, journalism has never been bigger in the world,” Ferro said. “There’s more journalists than there’s ever been. There’s more content than there’s ever been. And there’s still people wanting content. … So we think this is a great time to be a journalist, it’s a great time to be in media, and there’s a huge growth trajectory.”