Many in Turkey worry the failed takeover will only hasten the end of independent journalism there. In recent years, Turkish journalists have described a climate far worse than anything they can remember. TV stations critical of the government have been dropped from the state-run satellite broadcaster—one of them, the pro-Kurdish IMC TV, in the middle of a live interview with Dundar and Gul. Foreign journalists have been deported and denied entry to the country, and last fall mobs led by a prominent young politician in Erdogan’s party twice attacked the Istanbul offices of the newspaper Hurriyet. Reporters Without Borders lists Turkey 151st out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index, between Tajikistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In June the watchdog group’s Turkey representative was arrested and placed in detention on charges of distributing terrorist propaganda. ... Under a law that criminalizes insulting the nation’s leader, more than 2,000 cases have been opened against journalists, cartoonists, teachers, a former Miss Turkey, and even schoolchildren in the past two years. ... Most of its income comes from newsstand sales: Its circulation hovers around 50,000, and at 1.5 Turkish lira (49¢), it’s slightly more expensive than most papers. That funds operations, ink and paper, and the modest salaries of its staff of 200. ... The paper faces the same problems papers face everywhere, as younger readers get their news from social media and the internet destroys the newspaper business model.
Ferro, who declined to be interviewed for this story, began his career as an entrepreneur, launching companies in the 1980s and ’90s, including a software startup. By the time he met Fiasco, Ferro had long since transitioned from creating businesses to buying them—especially ones in financial trouble. And for an investor in distressed companies, few industries have targets as numerous and tempting as newspapers. ... The Ferro era at Tribune has quickly become one of the more baffling chapters in media history. Within eight months, Team Ferro has rejected one purchase offer, angering shareholders; promised to unveil a “content monetization engine” that would unleash newspapers’ true potential as a “rock star business”; posted a want ad for an employee to assist “news content harvesting robots”; rejected another, more lucrative purchase offer; rebranded Tribune as Tronc, or tronc, as the company insists; and split and re-rebranded tronc into troncM, for media, and troncX, for exchange. ... corporate renaming ignited extended spasms of #tronc mockery on social media. Sample tweet: “WHAT YOU GONNA DO WITH ALL THAT JONC ALL THAT JONC INSIDE YOUR TRONC.” ... yet, until recently, Ferro was on the verge of laughing all the way to the bonc, as it were. ... now the spotlight is back on Ferro and his vision for saving journalism.
The main goal isn’t simply to maximize revenue from advertising—the strategy that keeps the lights on and the content free at upstarts like the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and Vox. It’s to transform the Times’ digital subscriptions into the main engine of a billion-dollar business, one that could pay to put reporters on the ground in 174 countries even if (OK, when) the printing presses stop forever. To hit that mark, the Times is embarking on an ambitious plan inspired by the strategies of Netflix, Spotify, and HBO: invest heavily in a core offering (which, for the Times, is journalism) while continuously adding new online services and features (from personalized fitness advice and interactive newsbots to virtual reality films) so that a subscription becomes indispensable to the lives of its existing subscribers and more attractive to future ones.