• Griffin vacates post amid falling shares, strategy conflict
  • Move comes weeks after Michael Ferro took over as chairman

Tribune Publishing Co., the owner of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, ousted Chief Executive Officer Jack Griffin less than a month after investor Michael Ferro became non-executive chairman.

Griffin, who took over as CEO in 2014, will be replaced by Justin C. Dearborn, the Chicago-based company said in a statement on Tuesday. Dearborn, 46, had been CEO of Merge Healthcare Inc., whose software helps doctors manage medical images. In August, International Business Machines Corp. agreed to buy Merge, where Ferro was chairman, for about $1 billion.

Griffin’s tenure has been marked by a falling share price and conflict over strategy. The newspaper company has struggled since being spun off from the TV business now called Tribune Media Co. Tribune Publishing suspended its dividend earlier this month, after Ferro became its largest shareholder with a $44.4 million investment, equal to a 17 percent stake, and joined the board. Ferro is also majority owner of the Chicago Sun-Times through his media holding company Wrapports LLC.

The tumult at Tribune Publishing has increased in recent months. In September the company fired Los Angeles Times Publisher Austin Beutner after little more than a year on the job, replacing him with Timothy Ryan, an executive from the Baltimore Sun. Last summer, Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad tried to buy the newspaper along with the San Diego Union-Tribune, a person with knowledge of the matter said at the time.

Tribune is also trying to find a successful business model in the digital age. Last week, its flagship paper, the Chicago Tribune, said it would implement a metered paywall, meaning readers could read up to 10 articles a month online before being asked to subscribe.

In May, Tribune Publishing acquired the San Diego Union-Tribune and nine community weeklies and related digital properties. The company said this month that suspending its dividend would free up cash for acquisitions and digital initiatives.

Dearborn’s contract runs through Feb. 21, 2018. He’ll receive an annual base salary of $600,000 and is entitled to an annual cash bonus with a target of 70 percent of his base compensation.

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