Tribune Publishing Co. named Trif Alatzas publisher and editor-in-chief of The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday as part of a broader corporate reorganization designed to better capitalize on its journalism.
The move to create editor/publisher roles, combining oversight of editorial and business operations at its newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, comes as Tribune Publishing’s newest investor seeks to turn around the company.
Michael Ferro, a Chicago venture capitalist and technology entrepreneur, invested $44.4 million to become the largest shareholder in Tribune last month, and appointed a new CEO last week.
“By giving our newsroom leaders dual responsibilities, we are ensuring our local brands remain vital to the communities they serve with our journalists and creators producing premium, compelling content across all mediums,” Justin Dearborn, Tribune Publishing’s new CEO, said in a statement.
Alatzas, 49, is a Baltimore native who joined The Sun in 2002.
The flattening of the corporate structure is part of what Dearborn, a longtime Ferro business partner, dubbed the company’s “content-first” strategy. In addition, he said print subscribers will automatically receive unlimited access to their publication’s website, starting this spring. The firm also seeks to harness and monetize the data provided by digital readers.
“We are a big company, and we need to start acting like it and get our swagger back,” he said on a company-wide call for employees on Wednesday.
While combining the publisher and editor roles is not unknown, particularly at smaller news organizations, the practice remains far from the industry norm, which has traditionally viewed a separation between business and news operations as critical. Alatzas said he would work to ensure editorial independence.
“Commerce is part of this, but the editorial integrity just is not for sale,” Alatzas said.
A Bel Air resident, Alatzas grew up in Baltimore County in a family of “news junkies,” he said. He was known to many in The Sun’s newsroom because he worked at his family’s former restaurant, located close to newspaper’s Calvert Street offices. He later interned at the now defunct Evening Sun.
“Not a lot of people end up working at their hometown newspaper, and certainly not a lot of them become the editor or the publisher, so I’m very honored. This place means a lot to me,” he said. “I want The Sun to continue to be the best, and I’m really committed to doing everything I can.”
He worked for newspapers in Rochester, N.Y., and Wilmington, Del., before returning to Baltimore, where he led the sports and business departments before becoming head of digital media. In 2013, he became the top editor of the 179-year-old news organization.
During Alatzas’ tenure as top editor, The Sun expanded investigative reporting and has won more than 20 national journalism awards for breaking news coverage of the Columbia Mall shooting and investigations of police brutality, the public health impact of violence on city residents and compensation claims by school workers hurt by students.
The Sun’s coverage of the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death was recognized with two awards from the Online News Association in 2015 for breaking news and explanatory reporting. The Sun also was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2014.
Tim Ryan, former publisher of The Sun and Allentown Morning Call, said Alatzas showed a “natural business sense.” Ryan left Baltimore in September to become publisher of the Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune.
“I’m very excited to see him apply the leadership skills that he’s utilized in the newsroom to the rest of the organization,” said Ryan, who was named president of publishing on Wednesday and will oversee Alatzas and the other publishers.
Richard J. “Rick” Daniels, who was The Sun’s publisher until Monday, lost his job as part of the shake-up.
“It’s a new management system and there will probably be a few kinks that can be worked out, but if anybody can make it work, it will be Trif,” said Daniels, a former executive at The Boston Globe and The Hartford Courant who replaced Ryan.
Bill Marimow, a former top editor at The Sun who hired Alatzas in 2002, said he is confident that Alatzas will preserve the paper’s editorial integrity but that taking on what has been two, full-time jobs will be difficult.
“It’s a very challenging task,” said Marimow, now editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
In his new role, Alatzas oversees a staff of about 720 people at the Baltimore Sun Media Group, which includes The Capital in Annapolis, The Carroll County Times, City Paper, Towson Times and other community newspapers and their websites.
The Baltimore Sun had average daily print circulation of 121,000 and Sunday circulation of 259,000, according to an investor presentation last summer. While print circulation has declined, The Sun’s digital audience has grown. After implementing a digital subscription model five years ago, The Sun posted record increases in online readership last year.
Scott Dance, a reporter who is the local leader of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, which represents about 135 reporters, advertising staff and others at The Sun, said it is “concerning” that The Sun has had three publishers in six months.
But, he said, “We are glad someone we know and trust is in charge.”
In the past five years, Tribune Co. has emerged from bankruptcy and spun off its newspapers into a separate public company, which has seen several top executive changes while facing persistent declines in advertising revenue.
On Wednesday, the Chicago-based company reported a loss of $2.8 million on $1.65 billion in revenue for 2015 and said it expected pressure on revenue to continue this year, offset by “strategic cost management.” The company did not say how much would be saved by combining the publisher and editor roles.
Wall Street rewarded the changes, lifting shares of Tribune Publishing more than 8 percent Wednesday to close at $9.19.
Rick Edmonds, a business media analyst at the Poynter Institute, said reorganizing the executive team and adding leaders with technology experience may be a good move. He noted that business and news operations are becoming more integrated across the industry.
“There’s reason to think we’re going to see some new things,” he said. “Some of them might work very well. I don’t think that’s proven yet.”
Triffon G. "Trif" Alatzas
Family: Wife, 17-year-old son, 13-year-old daughter
Job: publisher and editor-in-chief of The Baltimore Sun
Previous position: senior vice president and executive editor
Current residence: Bel Air
Education: Calvert Hall College High School, Loyola University of Maryland, University of Illinois at Springfield