April 26, 2016

Update, 6:40 p.m.: Michael Ferro, the primary shareholder of Tribune Publishing, escalated the pointed rhetoric between his company and Gannett Tuesday afternoon, accusing the newspaper publisher of attempting to mount a hostile takeover in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

“I believe 100% in my heart that this is completely a manipulation, that they’re trying to steal the company, bum-rush us…It is ungentlemanly, it is not what we do in this industry. It is not the way we do business.”

The comments, made the day after Gannett went public with a offer to buy Tribune Publishing for $815 million, represent Ferro’s first public comments on the deal since exchanging contentious messages with Gannett CEO Robert Dickey earlier Tuesday.

At the heart of that dispute, laid out in two emails made public Tuesday morning, were differing characterizations of a would-be meeting between bosses of Tribune Publishing and Gannett. The first email, sent Monday by Tribune Publishing CEO Justin Dearborn to Gannett CEO Robert Dickey, says that Gannett canceled a meeting earlier this month in Washington, D.C. with representatives from Tribune.

The message, which says Tribune Publishing executives have gone to “great lengths to address your proposal,” calls Gannett executives “erratic and unreliable” in the early stages of negotiations:

Our entire team was surprised and confused by your decision to cease discussions regarding a reasonable path forward and to adopt the aggressive and hostile approach you have taken.

While we disagree with your approach, it in no way changes our commitment to act in the best interest of our shareholders. The board, together with our advisors, is engaged in a process to review your proposal thoroughly. We will do so expeditiously but in a manner that enables the board to fully assess your proposal.

Dickey fired back in an email to Dearborn this morning, disputing his characterization of the meeting and saying his letter includes multiple inaccuracies:

The dinner would have been attended by a member of the Tribune team who had not been made aware of our offer, so no substantive discussion could have taken place. Given that we had closed the Journal Media Group transaction just days before, Gannett chose instead to host a dinner to welcome its new JMG publishers.

Tribune was well aware of Gannett’s reason for cancelling the dinner, and Mr. Ferro even commented to me that he would have done the same thing if he had been in Gannett’s position.

The exchanges are the first public indication of strain between Gannett and Tribune Publishing since Gannett went public with its acquisition offer Monday. Yesterday, Tribune Publishing struck a more conciliatory note, notifying Gannett — and its shareholders — that the company had retained financial advisers from Goldman, Sachs & Co. and was in the process of reviewing the bid.

Editor’s note: Poynter receives funding through a training partnership with Gannett. The company has no influence over our news content.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly duplicated a statement from Gannett CEO Robert Dickey.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
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