CHICAGO — Tribune Co. has selected the publisher of its largest newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, to be its CEO as it tries to end nearly 2 1/2 years in bankruptcy protection.
Eddy Hartenstein, the Times' publisher since 2008, was named to Tribune Co.'s top job Friday. He had been part of a four-member council splitting the CEO duties since Tribune Co.'s previous CEO, Randy Michaels, resigned last October. Michaels, a former radio disc jockey, left after complaints about raunchy behavior that occurred under his watch.
Tribune Co. has been troubled since real estate mogul Sam Zell led a buyout of the company for $8.2 billion in late 2007. That deal saddled the company with more debt than it could handle as revenue plummeted because of a weakening economy and as advertising moved from newspapers and broadcast outlets to the Internet.
Tribune Co. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2008. Since then, the company has sold the Chicago Cubs and imposed cutbacks within a media stable that includes the Times, the Chicago Tribune, The (Baltimore) Sun and 23 television stations.
"The board feels strongly that it is in Tribune's best interests to have one person providing strategic vision and day-to-day direction for the company and its employees as we prepare to emerge from the Chapter 11 process," said Zell, Tribune Co.'s chairman.
Hartenstein, 60, will remain publisher of the Times even though he told the Los Angeles newspaper that he will be traveling to Tribune Co.'s Chicago headquarters frequently. His promotion led the Times to hire a chief operating officer, Kathy Thomson, who had been working at a subsidiary of Qualcomm Inc. The Los Angeles Times is the fourth-largest U.S. newspaper with a weekday circulation of about 605,000.
Tribune Co. has been trying to win court approval of a reorganization plan that would leave it under the ownership of its lenders in return for erasing most of its debt, which stood at about $13 billion when it sought bankruptcy protection. That proposal has been opposed by a group of Tribune Co. bondholders. That group is backing a plan that envisions getting more money by pursuing fraud allegations that arose from the final phases of Zell's buyout.
The federal judge overseeing Tribune Co.'s bankruptcy case has expressed misgivings about both reorganization plans. Once a plan is approved, the new owners could bring in a new board of directors and name a different CEO.
Hartenstein joined Tribune Co. in August 2008 when he became publisher of the Los Angeles Times. He previously was CEO of satellite TV service DirecTV Group. Inc. Thomson, the new chief operating officer of the Los Angeles newspaper, also worked at DirecTV while Hartenstein was CEO.