Perhaps I’m the last person who should make fun of Tribune’s renaming its company tronc. But that won’t stop me.
I named Project Unbolt. I proudly worked for TBD. I let my CEO change my title from editor to information content conductor (thankfully, Editor & Publisher went old-school in recognizing me as Editor of the Year). I get why you might choose a ridiculous name (or a great name that others might like; reaction to TBD’s name was mixed).
I’ll say this: It’s too early to say whether this name change is a master stroke, a stupid move or both. I’ll explain that more later.
But the reaction to the move was swift, derisive and hilarious:
— Ellen Gray (@elgray) June 2, 2016
— Robert Klaus (@RobertCKlaus) June 3, 2016
Good morning. Grabbing a cup of coffee and sitting down to read the #tronc.
— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) June 3, 2016
It’s nice to know the 1960s Batman onomatopoeia writer is still finding work. #tronc
— Eric Kokonas (@EricKokonas) June 3, 2016
— Morning Shift (@WBEZmorning) June 3, 2016
— GoogleTrends (@GoogleTrends) June 2, 2016
Henceforth, Medill will be known as Northwestern’s School of Content Curation and Monetization. #Tronc
— Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint) June 2, 2016
— tommy rowan (@tommyrowan) June 3, 2016
— Steve Bass (@sbassopb) June 3, 2016
Sometimes saying names out loud can be a helpful way to discover whether your new company name and branding are keepers. #tronc
— jamesvanosdol (@jamesvanosdol) June 3, 2016
— Ernie Smith (@ShortFormErnie) June 3, 2016
— The Frustrated Fan (@Frustrated_Fan) June 3, 2016
— Great K8 (@KtMudgett) June 3, 2016
— Harry McCracken (@harrymccracken) June 3, 2016
If that wasn’t enough tronc mockery (tronckery?) for you, I don’t think the tweets I grabbed overlapped at all with those curated by the Verge. I’m telling you, the mockery goes on and on. But I want to shift to a fun sub-topic:
tronc or Tronc?
If you want a serious explanation of the rebranding (well, it has serious stuff in it, but he has some fun, too; how could you not?) and what it means for the takeover war between Tribune (er, tronc) and Gannett, Ken Doctor did an excellent job for Nieman Lab. My favorite part of the post, though, was this editor’s note (which didn’t note that Ken also blogs for Politico or POLITICO or whatever).
— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) June 3, 2016
Because journalists especially care about capitalization, this matter also prompted tweets.
— Peter Lattman (@peterlattman) June 3, 2016
You know who also disdained the lower-case tronc? The Tronc-owned Los Angeles Times:
Victory for copy editors (& readers) everywhere! Particularly those who hoped the lowercase trend died a decade ago. https://t.co/limIRuILcU
— Word_Chucker (@Word_Chucker) June 3, 2016
I’ll probably go with Tronc, though I’ve used both here. I’ve been generally disdainful of the capitalization of The in newspaper names that use the word in their mastheads. We did that at The Des Moines Register, where I spent about a decade, and it always struck me as pretentious. And I was editor of The Gazette, which everyone in the community (and the region) just called the Cedar Rapids Gazette, which has been my usage since I left.
But when I renamed this blog with the launch of TBD, The was part of the initials that reflected the name of our new product, so I found myself capitalizing The in my own blog name, and probably looking pretentious to others. But TBD’s been dead for five years now, so maybe I’ll stop that. And speaking of TBD …
Brand names matter little
When we announced TBD’s name, the Washington Post mocked it as “totally brain dead.” As though you should want a brand name the competition would like. Others liked it.
I may blog someday about the branding of TBD, but I’ll tease a bit now with some of the names we didn’t choose (that people actually recommended): WashDay, MonumentaList, IMBY. I’m serious. Branding isn’t easy (unless you already have a long-established brand such as Tribune Publishing …).
But here’s something I said when we were trying to choose a name for TBD (and blogged here when the St. Petersburg Times rebranded itself in 2011): The name doesn’t make the brand, the company’s performance in the marketplace makes the brand.
When two natural gas companies merged and named themselves Enron in the 1980s, the reaction was as derisive as the reaction to Tronc (without Twitter). But Enron quickly became regarded as an innovative star in the energy field, and the brand was powerful and positive. Then Enron collapsed and its name is now associated with greed, scandal and fraud.
TBD experienced a similar, but less dramatic arc, generating some derision when we announced the name, getting a lot of positive hype when we launched and quickly showed our ability at covering breaking news, using social media and creatively using digital technology to cover the news. But when the company abandoned our original strategy and fired most of the staff, TBD quickly became just another digital flash in the pan.
All we know know about Tronc is that its naming was greeted with loud and creative mockery. If it becomes the legacy company that figures out a successful digital model for news and revenue, Tronc will be a prestigious brand, and I will be among those saluting. But if it bombs, tronc will become a verb, and not in a good way (boy, we really tronced that up).
And, if you’re wondering what “tronc” means, the company formerly known as Tribune Publishing says it stands for “TRibune ONline Content.” Get it?
I think a more accurate translation may be fugan.
Update: Erik Wemple does a great job, as he would, of deconstructing and mocking the buzzword diarrhea in the mind-numbing Tronc press release. Be sure to read to the self-deprecating correction at the end. Deft use of the “somehow,” Erik. Fuego!