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The [Friday] Papers

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend, but what happens when your friend becomes the biggest investor in your enemy?" Peter Frost writes for Crain's.

That depends - who is the enemy and who is the friend in this scenario? I had to bear down on this lead for a few minutes to realize that Michael Ferro is the friend - but a friend to whom? - and Tribune Publishing is the enemy.

But isn't Ferro the enemy - except to Tribune Publishing CEO Jack Griffin, who was quite happy to make a new friend for $44 million?

I'd say those are the only two friends here, and the rest of us are their enemies.

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"Michael Ferro, who made his money in tech but took a controlling stake in the Chicago Sun-Times four years ago, went across town, plunked down $44.4 million and now is the chairman and biggest shareholder in Tribune Publishing, parent of rival Chicago Tribune.

"The two papers will continue to operate independently, say those at the Sun-Times and those familiar with Ferro's plans. Ferro stepped down from day-to-day operations of Wrapports, the company that owns the Sun-Times, Chicago Reader and some other digital properties, but he retains his financial stake."

This raises several questions:

* How is this not an antitrust violation? "The new venture Ferro set up to make the investment in Tribune, Merrick Media, counts among its investors largely the same group of investors who own the Sun-Times." I would think they would all have to liquidate their investment in Sun-Times owner Wrapports.

* Ferro, as bossman, obviously didn't have any kind of noncompete restriction, but isn't it kind of hinky that he'll bring all sorts of inside market information about the Sun-Times across the street? The better to vanquish it with? He wasn't killing it fast enough just by running it into the ground?

* Why wouldn't Ferro and his investors just put that money into the paper they already owned? I mean, obviously you'd rather own Tribune, but still. And how did they happen to have $44 million burning a hole in their pockets while decimating the Sun-Times staff?

* Reportedly, Tribune Publishing was seeking cash to fund acquisitions such as the Orange County Register. Was Ferro really the only person in the country who would supply it? Or was he the biggest chump, ponying up $44 million, which frankly isn't that much to control Tribune Publishing, but possibly much more than anyone else was willing to pay. Because Jack Griffin couldn't possibly have been impressed with Ferro's stewardship of the Sun-Times. And the market information Ferro brings with him couldn't possibly be worth that much. So the real question is, Why Ferro? Why oh why oh why.

* Will Ferro be a better or worse owner of Tribune than Sam Zell? The answer: Yes.

* If Ferro is such a savvy technology entrepreneur, why is the Sun-Times' technology so godawful? The answer: Because Ferro obviously isn't much of a technologist; he probably couldn't program his own MySpace page. And he knew nothing about the media industry coming in, and knows less now. (Has Ferro ever been asked about the Sun-Times website? Seriously. Think about how many ads aren't getting served because of browser freeze. Think about how many readers give up mid-load. Think about the readers who never go back - and the ads they never see. Think about the links the paper doesn't get because who wants to link to that garbage? Think about the impact of all this on SEO. Maybe his investors are clueless about issues like this, because slightly smarter investors would have ousted Ferro by now for what he's costing them.)

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"The other investors in Wrapports 'have never been in this to flip the (Sun-Times) and make fabulous wealth from their investments,' says Wrapports spokesman Dennis Culloton. 'They are strictly in this to keep the Sun-Times alive. They want the city to have a viable second voice.'"

LOL. Wrapports is not a charity. If they were in this strictly to keep the Sun-Times alive, they wouldn't have spent the last four years killing it.

Also, I repeat: "The new venture Ferro set up to make the investment in Tribune, Merrick Media, counts among its investors largely the same group of investors who own the Sun-Times."

If the goal of those investors was to maintain a viable second voice in the city, they wouldn't have just invested $44 million in its biggest competitor.

*

Also, can we please start to identify Dennis Culloton as a contracted public relations man hired to speak for the various companies he speaks for? He's not an employee of Wrapports, nor the Cubs, nor any of his clients.

*

"The Tribune gives Ferro a bigger base from which to build the digital platform that would allow content creators to make more money for their efforts, something he's long talked about, and tried, without success, to create at the Sun-Times."

I don't really know what that means. Since when did Ferro want to build a digital platform to allow content creators to make more money? That sounds like something he was building for all of us.

The second part of that formulation, though, is true: He's been an unmitigated digital disaster. Again, take it in: Tribune Publishing just gave itself to the person whose digital platform is the laughingstock of American journalism. Tribune has its problems, but it's always been relatively innovative on the digital/technological front - relative to how horrid the newspaper industry is generally in this regard. Ferro can learn a ton more from Tribune than Tribune from him, though Sun-Times insiders say Ferro showed no ability and/or interest in actually learning about the digital media space.

*

"But nearly everyone else wonders whether Ferro's 16.5 percent stake in Tribune lays the groundwork for a final chapter in the consolidation of the daily newspaper market that has occurred elsewhere but left Chicago among a handful of two-paper towns."

Remember, the Sun-Times owns the Reader and Tribune owns Chicago magazine (as well as the suburban titles it recently bought from the Sun-Times). Each also owns a smattering of smaller niche publications and websites. So a consolidation would essentially give Ferro the loudest voice by far in the city, controlling the city's major non-broadcast media outlets.

Yes, that shudder that just went up your spine was a disturbance in the Force.

*

Think it doesn't matter? Who do you think hires the editors of those publications now? Would Ferro and his lieutenant, Jim Kirk, for example, really put a real shitkicker in charge of the Reader?

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"The news of the Ferro group's investment spooked shareholders, who sent the newspaper company's stock down as much as 27 percent yesterday before closing at $7.98, down 11 percent."

Tribune shareholders no like Ferro in charge!

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"To be sure, Tribune and the Sun-Times have fostered something of a cozy relationship in the last decade, forging a series of partnerships that made the Sun-Times the Tribune's largest production customer in the Chicago area. Tribune prints and distributes its competitor - both via long-term deals - and in 2014 acquired all 38 of Wrapports' suburban newspapers for $23.5 million."

So a slow-motion merger?

*

"In a webcast yesterday with Tribune employees, Ferro struck an optimistic tone, saying it's a project he's fully invested in and something he hopes to be remembered for 100 years from now."

Like the way the Titanic is remembered.

*

"But given Ferro's reputation for meddling at the Sun-Times, top editors sought after the webcast to reassure reporters and other staffers worried 'he'll start imposing his will and doing the same things he was doing (there),' one Tribune staffer said. Newsroom leaders 'were trying to assure us this is not Sam Zell, Part 2.'"

How do newsroom leaders know that?

More to the point, do the Tribune's newsroom leaders have the guts to stand up to Ferro, unlike their counterparts at the Sun-Times?

(As veteran media critic Ken Auletta said to me when I profiled then-new Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski when I was at Chicago: "The question is, does she have the guts to say, 'No,' not just to her reporters but to her bosses? That is a question of character, the testing of which is yet to be determined.")

It'd be interesting to see what Jack Griffin has to say about Ferro's meddling at the Sun-Times.

*

"Tribune employees are keenly aware of the changes the tech entrepreneur made at their crosstown rival. Under Ferro, the Sun-Times cut its entire 29-employee photography staff in 2013. It spent millions of dollars developing and launching products and online ventures that ultimately failed. Many departing employees from the newsroom have not been replaced and readership has dwindled."

Odd that the Dave McKinney affair has been airbrushed out of some accounts; it's far more significant than the ham-handedness of the photography staff layoff.

Beyond that, though, I have yet to see an account that lists even a single accomplishment of Ferro's at the Sun-Times. Just one. Can someone give me something? Jack?

*

I have also yet to see a single Sun-Times employee say something good about Ferro.

*

Hey, Tribune people: Remember, Jack Griffin did this to you.

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"'As I told the staff today, our investors are committed,' says Jim Kirk, Sun-Times publisher and editor-in-chief."

Again: "The new venture Ferro set up to make the investment in Tribune, Merrick Media, counts among its investors largely the same group of investors who own the Sun-Times."

But then, Kirk has failed Auletta's character test many times over.

*

"Tribune Publishing, owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, plunged the most ever after suspending its dividend and saying entrepreneur Michael Ferro became its non-executive chairman and largest shareholder with a $44.4 million investment," Bloomberg reports.

Michael Ferro, well on his way to being remembered 100 years from now.

"Tribune Publishing shares sank as much as 30 percent to $6.28, the biggest intraday drop since it was spun off from Tribune Co. in July 2014. The stock was down about 12.6 percent this afternoon."

Maybe his real plan is to sink Tribune.

*

More likely, he'll go down in history as the person who destroyed both of the city's papers.

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See also: A bad day in Chicago media; it looks like Michael Ferro will be around a long, long time. In The [Thursday] Papers.

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P.S.: I'm pretty sure all of this is good reason to vote for Bernie Sanders.

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Beachwood Photo Booth: The Tanks Of Avondale
Addison & Elston.

That Old Book Smell
Amnesty time at the Chicago Public Library, joy boy.

America's Next Top Polluter
In Illinois, one of Tyson's facilities released 2,065,975 pounds of pollution into local waterways in 2014 alone.

24 Hours With Pop TV
Breast side up.

The Week In Chicago Rock
Featuring: Queensryche, Meytal, Kid Cudi, Decapitated, Rhymefest, and Werewheels.

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Super Bowl Weekend Specials
* Jilted NFL Cities Stuck With Stadium Debt.

* Warlord Patron Company To Continue As 'Official Tire Of The NFL.'

* The NFL, Packed With Christian Players, Falls Short In Welcoming Faith.

* The 8th Annual (More Or Less) Super Bowl Halftime Show Prop Bet: Coldplay Edition.

* The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour #88 will appear on Saturday.

* From the Beachwood vault: The Super Bowl Is Decadent And Depraved.

* From the Beachwood vault: Dear Football: I'm Breaking Up With You.

* From the Beachwood vault: The Trews About Those Super Bowl Ads.

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BeachBook

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TweetWood
A sampling.

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She'd still be waiting on the feds to complete their investigation so all charges could be announced together at the same time.

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The Beachwood Tip Line: We have the antidote.



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Posted on February 5, 2016


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BOOKS - America, We Need To Talk.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Beachwood Photo Booth: Wyoming, Michigan.


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