The Michael Ferro Name Game

Tronc chairman has a knack for weird corporate monikers.

When Michael Ferro swooped in to the ranks of the Chicago Sun-Times post-bankruptcy in 2011, he did so on the wings of a holding company called Wrapports LLC. He and partner Timothy Knight explained at the time to an AP reporter that the tongue-twisting moniker was a mash-up of two converging media ideas: the “wrapping” of a print newspaper and the “rapport” of online technologies. (On the company website, it looks now as if the preferred embedded meaning is one that attaches wrap to [electronic device] ports.)

Once Ferro set about trying to transform the operations of the Sun-Times, there was also a content management system christened Hermes, after the Greek messenger to the gods. However, per Felix Gillette and Gerry Smith’s Bloomberg feature about Ferro, the CMS application eventually earned a less flattering nickname amid broader issues affecting the development team:

Hermes was rife with problems and was eventually shut down. Frustrated employees had taken to calling it “herpes.”

But without a doubt the most fascinating bit of etymology in the Bloomberg piece is the revelation that the name Tronc was conjured up by Ferro before his involvement with Tribune Publishing. The fact that the word was initially thought of for something else entirely and yet still works as an acronym for Ferro’s current media efforts is downright bizarre. Again, from the Gillette-Smith piece:

In early 2014, according to Josh Metnick, former chief technology officer at Wrapports, Ferro got excited about a new product, which he wanted to name tronc—borrowing a word that dates back to the early 20th century, when hotel and restaurant workers would collect service fees in a “tronc,” a fund that would later be communally distributed. The idea, Metnick says, was to create a kind of digital “tronc box,” whereby newspapers would be able to collect micropayments from the readers they were serving far and wide across the web. At around the same time, in February 2014, the Sun-Times became the first major newspaper in the country to accept bitcoin in exchange for access to its paywalled stories. The cryptocurrency experiment was short-lived, and the cyber tronc box never got off the ground. Even so, Ferro held on to the tronc name, which he would later repurpose to much commotion.

On top of this Tronc curve was BuzzFeed’s Jim Dalrymple. He tweeted out as a joke in June this derivation of the name, and was of course surprised to read via Bloomberg that he was right on the funny-money.

Ferro’s vision for the future of newspapers gives some the hebegeebees. This from a man for whom Higi is not just a Chadic language spoken in Africa but also the name of a health-monitoring app.

Previously on FishbowlNY:
Tronc Still Owns America’s Oldest Continuously Published Newspaper

@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.