In a time when many publications are struggling, a 150-year-old media company is daring to ask consumers: Would you like some “tronc”?
In April, Gannett offered roughly $400 million to take over Tribune Publishing—which owns the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, along with several other newspapers.
The company’s chairman, Michael Ferro, has been fighting off the takeover attempt. On Thursday night, his efforts culminated in what some are (mockingly) calling a “glorious” rebranding: tronc. It stands for “Tribune Online Content.”
Casey Newton, The Verge’s Silicon Valley editor, explained:
Having recently fended off a hostile takeover from Gannett, the publisher of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times today united under a proud new banner—one that looks similar to, but is legally distinct from, the popular film Tron. What is a Tronc? Why, it’s “a content curation and monetization engine,” according to the press release. Sure! It is definitely a real organization and not something that is going to sell to an Asian telecom company for $100 in the spring of 2018.
Along with the new name, the company will see its stock traded on Nasdaq instead of the New York Stock Exchange, beginning June 20.
It didn’t take long for the reactions to start rolling in.
“So obsessed is the new, rebranded company with the Web’s lower-case vibe that its press release starts various sentences that way,” Wemple wrote in The Washington Post.
Some editors have already refused to use the lowercase reference:
— Ben Leventhal (@benleventhal) June 3, 2016
The Verge’s Newton wrote that the lowercase name was devised because “that’s the way that teens are talking on Slack these days” but that the problem with the name goes further than its absence of capitalization:
Tribune’s name derived from the Roman officials whose job it was to protect average citizens from the unfair actions of patrician magistrates. Tronc, on the other hand, is the sound of a millennial falling down the stairs.
Twitter users quickly determined that the company’s new moniker was best served cold, with a side of snark:
I’m flying home. Sitting next to a high-ranking media exec who’ll remain nameless. When she read about #Tronc, she started laughing out loud
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) June 3, 2016
[dipshit millennial consultant unveils TRONC name & logo to Tribune execs]
MILLENNIAL: that’ll be thirty million dollars
— Jason O. Gilbert (@gilbertjasono) June 2, 2016
Because WTF was already taken.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) June 3, 2016
You need to ask the question: is your content Tronc-worthy?
— Prof. Jeff Tronc (@ProfJeffJarviss) June 2, 2016
I have curated
that was in
so premium and
— Alex Duner (@asduner) June 2, 2016
How much did they pay an agency to come up with #tronc ? Could have just had something go down the wrong pipe.
— Nick_Kelly (@Nick_Kelly) June 2, 2016
— Patrick Coffee (@PatrickCoffee) June 3, 2016
Tronc isn’t anymore nutty a name than Google. But a company with a 100 year old name changing it to Tronc is this: pic.twitter.com/SzNF29qwrx
— Frank Pallotta (@frankpallotta) June 2, 2016
Things “tronc” sounds like more than a media company:
– a strain of marijuana
– part of a steam engine
– a 17th century musical instrument
— Nicky Woolf (@NickyWoolf) June 2, 2016
“TRONC TRONC” is how Law and Order starts, right?
— Linda Holmes (@nprmonkeysee) June 2, 2016
Is tronc pronounced like GIF or JIF?
— Hunter Walk (@hunterwalk) June 2, 2016
— Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint) June 2, 2016
My timeline is just an endless stream of tronc jokes right now. I need a gin and tronc to handle this.
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) June 2, 2016
The new name isn’t the only part of Tribune Publishing’s rebranding that’s drawn scorn.
Wemple’s Washington Post article is titled, “Tribune Publishing, now ‘tronc,’ issues worst press release in the history of journalism.” He wrote:
Far worse than the name and punctuational idiosyncrasies is the direction in which Ferro is pushing the company. The vision calls for perhaps the most concentrated mess of buzzwords that digital publishing has ever seen, and that’s some feat.
Here’s how Ferro announces the company’s new direction and vision in the press release:
Our industry requires an innovative approach and a fundamentally different way of operating. Our transformation strategy—which has attracted over $114 million in growth capital—is focused on leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the user experience and better monetize our world-class content in order to deliver personalized content to our 60 million monthly users and drive value for all of our stakeholders. Our rebranding to tronc represents the manner in which we will pool our technology and content resources to execute on our strategy.
The jargon doesn’t stop with Ferro’s words. Here’s how Tribune Publishing explains the progress it has made to “transform its business”:
· Reorganizing the business into new operating and reporting units to increase transparency and drive corporate focus.
· Launching troncX, our content curation and monetization engine, to combine existing assets with new artificial intelligence (“AI”) technology to accelerate digital growth. The Company conducted a 30-day pilot of its AI efforts involving 1% of its traffic, delivering a 400% increase in the yield on programmatic revenue.
· Partnering with Nant Capital and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong to accelerate the transformation from a legacy news company to a technology and content company, including gaining access to over 100 machine vision and artificial intelligence technology patents for news media applications.
Soon-Shiong, tronc’s new vice chairman, continues the corporate-speak:
I am excited to join the Company as Vice-Chairman during this pivotal moment of transformation and revitalization. Today’s announcement underscores the Board’s commitment to completely transform the Company and the industry to protect the vital role that free speech plays in our communities. In the wake of significant disruption, it is time to bring the legacy publishing business into the modern era and leverage innovative technology—from machine learning to artificial intelligence – to create long-term sustainability and vitality.
The company’s chief exec, Justin Dearborn, couldn’t resist adding a few more buzzwords in the release:
We are pleased to partner with Nasdaq as our new stock market listing and are thrilled to be joining other leading innovators and technology companies listed on the exchange. We are confident Nasdaq will provide an ideal trading platform for tronc and cost effective access to a portfolio of tools and services to reach investors.
If all that baloney sounds like the work of a team with no background in journalism, then it accurately represents itself. As Andrew Ross Sorkin noted in the New York Times, Tribune (sorry, tronc) is stacked with executives and directors with little or no journalism experience, including Dearborn himself, who moved to Tribune/tronc from Merge Healthcare, an IBM outfit.
Tronc said it will launch “a visual content portal that will curate tronc’s premium content across all of its award-winning brands in one convenient place.”
What do you think of the publisher’s new name and direction, PR Daily readers?