Tribune Publishing CEO aims to boost online subscriptions, ads

A priority of Tribune Publishing CEO Jack Griffin is boosting circulation revenue. Above, the Los Angeles Times Building in downtown L.A.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Jack Griffin, chief executive of Tribune Publishing Co., said his primary focus at the newly spun-off company is growing online subscriptions and digital advertising at its eight major newspapers.

“The days of just taking your print product and raising the price every year are out of vogue,” Griffin said Tuesday during a visit to the Los Angeles Times. “We’ll be adding more value.”

To do so, Griffin pointed to the May rollout of the new Times website, which features continuous scrolling and bolder use of photos. Calling the site “best in class,” he said the rest of Tribune’s newspapers would replicate the format by year’s end.

The company will also redesign and relaunch all of its mobile apps and restructure subscription packages. Papers that don’t currently charge for online access will set up metered pay walls, Griffin said.

Although the company plans to increase so-called “native” advertising — ads that resemble editorial content — Griffin stressed that the papers would not try to “fool the consumer.”


Another priority is boosting circulation revenue. Last year Tribune Co.'s print advertising revenue was $860 million and circulation revenue was $430 million.

“Tribune has done a very good job at growing its circulation revenue, but it’s still only half of print advertising,” Griffin said, adding that he would prefer to see something closer to a 50-50 split. “They should come, over time, more closely into balance.”

Griffin, 54, declined to comment on whether Tribune was looking to buy additional papers in Southern California. But he pointed to the company’s recent acquisition of two small Maryland newspapers, which now share content and resources with the Baltimore Sun, a Tribune paper.

“We’re quite explicit that replicating that model across our company is our strategic intent,” he said.

Griffin said he was not interested in selling any of the newspapers. Over time, he said, Tribune’s newspapers have become more intertwined and dependent on one another for resources, which would make it difficult to separate one property from the rest.

“Every one of our papers is profitable, and we like our portfolio,” he said. “In a public company environment, anything is possible, but it’s not what we’re thinking about.”

He said he also wants to promote Tribune’s Hoy and El Sentinel brands. Tribune is the largest Spanish-language newspaper publisher in the country with room to expand digitally, he said.

Tribune Publishing, headquartered in Chicago, was spun off Aug. 4 from Tribune Co., which changed its name to Tribune Media and retained its higher-growth broadcasting and entertainment assets.

After the spinoff, Tribune Publishing carried $350 million in debt. With revenue projected to decline this year, an analyst at CRT Capital Group has estimated that the company would reduce expenses by $65 million.

Griffin said cost-cutting decisions would be made by management at each newspaper.

Tribune Publishing released second-quarter earnings Tuesday, reporting profit of $15.2 million, a 31% decline from $21.9 million in the second quarter of 2013. Revenue was $429.9 million, down 3.8% from a year earlier. Advertising revenue was down 7.1%; circulation revenue was up 2.3% year over year.

“What we’re focused on is not just the short-term performance, which was fine and in line with our expectations, but achieving some long-term goals,” John Bode, chief financial officer of Tribune Publishing, said in an interview.

Shares of Tribune Publishing fell 97 cents, or 4.7%, to $19.55 on Tuesday. The company’s stock has declined 11.6% since general public trading began Aug. 5.

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