CEO Justin Dearborn out in Tribune Publishing shakeup

Tribune Publishing

In a stunning shakeup at the top of Tribune Publishing, Justin Dearborn is out as chairman and chief executive officer of the parent company of the Chicago Tribune.

Dearborn’s sudden departure was announced Thursday along with the appointment of David Dreier, a Tribune Publishing board member and former U.S. congressman, as chairman, and Tim Knight, president of Tribune Publishing, as CEO.

Also out are Ross Levinsohn and Mickie Rosen, CEO and president, respectively, of Tribune Interactive, the digital unit of Tribune Publishing.

Justin Dearborn

Sources said the moves followed a board meeting earlier this week at which the future of the company — including its possible sale — were discussed. In a statement, Knight referred to “attractive consolidation opportunities within the media industry that will enable us to accelerate our strategy.”

Dearborn, who had been CEO since 2016, is a longtime associate of Michael Ferro, who preceded him as chairman and remains the company’s largest shareholder. The company said Dearborn had “stepped down.”

“I am proud of what we have accomplished over the last several years,” Dearborn said in a statement. “Tribune Publishing has a tremendously talented team and I am confident that the company is in great hands to build on that progress under Tim’s leadership going forward.”

Knight, who joined Tribune Publishing in 2017, previously was CEO of Wrapports, the former parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times under Ferro’s ownership group.

“Tim is a proven operator with an entrepreneurial approach and digital media expertise,” Dreier said in a statement. “At a time when consolidation is essential in our quest to strengthen journalism, his experience transforming media companies will help achieve success.

Tim Knight

“Tim’s deep knowledge of our company and his commitment to expand our paid digital business will be critically important. Journalism is under attack across the globe and we have an unwavering commitment to delivering a first rate news product. We take very seriously the role that we play in a functioning democracy. Working with Tim and the rest of our Tribune team, we will continue to provide great content for our readers and great value to our shareholders.”

Dreier said of Dearborn: “On behalf of the board, I want to thank Justin for his leadership. Over the past three years, he has improved Tribune Publishing’s financial position by building the infrastructure necessary to convert our award-winning content into revenue through an enhanced digital strategy. During his tenure, digital only subscribers have more than tripled and we have significantly reduced our debt and pension obligation. Our share price has increased 80 percent and our market capitalization has more than doubled. These results reflect the successful implementation of our efforts to improve operating performance and drive overall value. We wish him all the best.”

In addition to the Chicago Tribune, the company owns daily newspapers in eight other cities.

Here is the text of Knight’s email to employees:

Colleagues,
 
Earlier today we announced a management transition at Tribune Publishing as we look to continue to build on the strong momentum we have developed over the last several years. As part of that transition, Justin Dearborn has stepped down as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, and the Board has appointed me to serve as Chief Executive Officer and David Dreier as Chairman of the Board.
 
I am honored to assume this role at such an exciting time for our company. Since joining the company in February 2017, I have had the opportunity to work closely with Justin as we have made significant progress in executing on our strategy that positions Tribune’s local media businesses to provide world-class journalism that informs, inspires and engages the communities we serve. Looking ahead, we will continue to build the infrastructure necessary to convert our award-winning content into revenue.
 
I know first-hand that delivering high-quality, local journalism has never been more important. As CEO, I am committed to continuing to find the business models that fund our journalism. 
 
We also are announcing plans to streamline the leadership structure of our Tribune Interactive (TI) division. Ross Levinsohn and Mickie Rosen will move on to pursue new opportunities. Terry Jimenez and I will work with the TI leadership team to over the next week regarding reporting relationships. This change in organizational structure does not change our intense focus on digital or our commitment to pursue opportunities we see in advancing our digital strategy.
 
I want to express my gratitude to Justin for leading Tribune Publishing through a time of immense change for our company and the industry. Under his leadership, digital only subscribers have more than tripled, we have significantly reduced our debt and pension obligation, our share price has increased 80% and our market capitalization has more than doubled. Above all, he has helped ensure that we have the right assets, people and strategy in place to execute on our vision.
 
Your continued hard work has made these results possible and positioned Tribune to succeed in today’s rapidly changing media environment. I look forward to working with all of you to build upon our recent progress and continue to deliver award-wining content to readers, a compelling platform for advertisers and value for our shareholders.
 
Thank you all for going above and beyond to bring Tribune to where it is today. We are excited about this new chapter and the many opportunities that lie ahead.

Best,

Tim Knight
CEO and President
Tribune Publishing