Oaktree's Bruce Karsh named chairman of restructured company

Tribune Co. on Thursday confirmed one of the TV biz’s worst-kept secrets, the appointment of biz vet Peter Liguori as CEO of the Chicago-based owner that recently emerged from bankrutpcy after an arduous four-year restructuring process.

Bruce Karsh, president and co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, was elected chairman by Tribune’s newly minted board of directors. Oaktree is Tribune’s largest equity owner post-bankruptcy with a roughly 23% stake in the Chicago-based firm that owns TV stations and newspapers.

Word that Liguori would be tapped to lead Tribune surfaced late last year after the company’s Chapter 11 process wound down. He succeeds Eddy Hartenstein as Tribune’s chief exec. But Hartenstein remains in the picture as publisher of Tribune’s Los Angeles Times and CEO of the Los Angeles Times Media Group, as well as a board member and a “special advisor to the office of the CEO.”

Karsh said Liguori, a former top exec at Discovery Communications, Fox and FX, “has the talent and experience to lead the company forward.”

After its slog through bankruptcy, the new-model Tribune emerges with more than $2 billion in cash on its books and little debt. Liguori is expected to focus on building up Tribune’s 23 major market TV stations and WGN America cabler. Conventional wisdom has it that the new owners will look to sell off Tribune’s newspapers, which include such big-city dailies as the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and Orlando Sentinel, but insiders have downplayed the suggestion that Tribune will hold a fire sale, given the strength of its balance sheet.

“Tribune is a great company with an incredible collection of media assets, iconic brands in major markets across the country, tremendous journalism and very talented people,” Liguori said. “Collectively, the company’s digital operations, broadcast outlets and newspapers are some of the best in the country. In many ways, Tribune is like a 165-year old start-up — there is a lot to build upon.”

In a note to Tribune staffers, Liguori emphasized the need for Tribune’s traditional media assets to innovate and build a strong presence in the evolving digital realm.

“On the broadcast front, that means airing compelling, original programming and best in class local news,” Liguori wrote. “We must find efficient ways to create our own fresh programming. On the newspaper side, that means partnering with readers to deliver the content they need and want, wherever they are and whenever they want it. We must accelerate our digital offerings and get paid for them. Across all of our businesses it means more blogging, tweeting and recording to deepen our relationship with our audience. Great content will create value for our audience, advertisers and affiliates.”

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