Michael Ferro’s Merrick Media is selling its stock in Tronc Inc., parent of the Chicago Tribune, to McCormick Media for $208.6 million, ending his tumultous time atop the big newspaper publisher.
Ferro’s company is selling 9.07 million shares of Tronc, formerly Tribune Publishing, for $23 each, according to a regulatory filing Friday. He was the company’s largest shareholder, with a 26 percent stake, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The buyers include Sargent McCormick, according to the filing, who is in business development at the Harvester Trust, his LinkedIn page says. The trust manages the fortune of the family, whose patriarch Cyrus McCormick invented the reaper in the early 1800s. The purchasers, who also include John Lynch and Clancy Woods, recently approached Ferro, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The sale marks the latest sale of a newspaper company to a deep-pocketed investor. Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post in 2013, putting that paper safely in the hands of a wealthy benefactor.
It closes a tumultuous chapter for the newspaper company. Ferro, 51, became chairman in 2016 after Tribune Publishing was split from the broadcast business that was once part of Tribune Co. He became the company’s largest stockholder through a $44.4 million investment and within a month forced out Chief Executive Officer Jack Griffin and installed new management.
Later, he brought in Los Angeles billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong as an investor, only to end up in a legal fight with him. Soon-Shiong has agreed to buy the San Diego Tribune and Los Angeles Times, Tronc’s biggest paper, for $500 million. Soon-Shiong continues to own a large chunk of the company, publisher of major newspapers in Baltimore, Orlando, Florida; and Hartford, Connecticut.
For a time it seemed the most compelling stories at Tronc were the ones about the company itself. Soon-Shiong and Ferro took shots at each other publicly over corporate governance issues.
Ferro stepped down as chairman of Tronc last month, just hours before Fortune magazine detailed sexual-harassment accusations against him by two women.
Los Angeles Times publisher Ross Levinsohn took a leave of absence in January following sexual harassment allegations leveled against him. Under Tronc, Times management lost a fight with newsroom staff when employees voted to join a union for the first in the newspaper’s 136-year history. The Times’ editor, Lewis D’Vorkin, was reassigned following an outcry from staff.
The staff at the Chicago Tribune is now mounting a union drive.
“Task One for me: to ensure that we have a newsroom that stands up to the likes of the Washington Post and New York Times,” Soon-Shiong said in an interview with the Times Friday. “We need to strengthen our voice again.”
— With assistance by Anousha Sakoui
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