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Jack Griffin named Tribune Publishing CEO; Eddy Hartenstein chairman

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Veteran publishing executive Jack Griffin has been named chief executive of the new Tribune Publishing Co., leading a group of eight newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

The publishing chain is being spun off as a separately traded public company by Chicago-based Tribune Co., which plans to retain ownership of its TV stations and related broadcast properties.

The separation is expected to happen by this summer.

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Eddy Hartenstein, who has been publisher of The Times since August 2008, will become chairman of Tribune Publishing, a non-executive role. Hartenstein is expected to stay on as publisher of The Times until a successor is chosen.

In addition to his role as Times publisher, Hartenstein served as chief executive of the parent Tribune Co. for two years, leading the company out of a lengthy bankruptcy.

“It is an honor and a privilege to sit at the helm of the Los Angeles Times,” Hartenstein said in an email Thursday to Times employees.  “Working alongside each and every one of you through our triumphs and challenges since I arrived here at Spring Street in 2008 has been a career highlight.”

Griffin, who will assume his new job April 14, is acquainted with Tribune’s newspapers, which include the Orlando Sentinel, the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida, the Baltimore Sun and Hartford Courant.  He and the New York consulting firm that he runs, Empirical Media, have served as advisors to Tribune for the past year during its restructuring of the company’s print properties.

Griffin co-founded Empirical Media in 2011 after serving six months as chief executive of Time Inc. Before that, Griffin worked for about eight years as a top executive at Meredith Corp., which owns television stations and a collection of consumer magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle and Fitness.

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From 1999-2003, he was president of the nationally syndicated Parade magazine.

Griffin, 53, comes from a newspaper family. In the 1950s, his grandfather was the editor of the Boston Post. His father also worked at the publication, and Griffin’s first job was as a reporter.

“I absolutely love the newspaper business,” Griffin said in a brief interview Thursday.   “I come from a newspaper family and, in my judgment, this is the premier newspaper company to be involved with.”

Hartenstein, in an interview, said he took himself out of the running for the CEO position because he felt the job of chairman would be the best use of his skills.

“I decided to take a step back and a step up,” said Hartenstein, 63, who previously worked as a top executive at Hughes Communications, where he became a key architect of the satellite television industry by helping form DirecTV. He served as chairman and chief executive of DirecTV until that company’s 2004 sale to News Corp.

“At this point in my career, I think I would be better and more comfortable being in a strategic role rather than an operating role,” Hartenstein said. “I am going to be associated with this company for a long time as chairman."

The search for a new publisher will be a priority, Hartenstein and Griffin said.

“It will be a very smooth transition,” Hartenstein said. “I’ve got every vested interest in making sure that whoever that person is will represent -- not only the local community here -- but also fit in and represent the important leadership role that the Los Angeles Times will play in the future of Tribune Publishing.”

Griffin said Tribune's newspapers were all profitable, and the company has done a good job diversifying its revenue base.

“There are significant opportunities ahead,” he said.

John Bode, who was appointed chief financial officer of Tribune Publishing in September, will continue in that role following the spin-off. Tony Hunter will continue to serve as publisher of the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

Tribune expects to name board members for the publishing company in the coming weeks.  The publishing company is expected to be based in Chicago.

Tribune is not the first company to spin off its newspapers as the industry tries to reverse declines in advertising revenue and as readers switch to digital devices from print as a main source of their news.

Time Warner Inc. is spinning off its Time Inc. publishing group, and mogul Rupert Murdoch last year divided his media empire in two pieces, placing the more profitable television and film properties in one company, 21st Century Fox, and the newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, into a separate enterprise.
 
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