"It looks like a bunch of digital sperm impregnating a Tronc egg," Oliver says of a company strategy video. Credit: YouTube

YouTube video

Midway through through Last Week Tonight‘s Sunday-evening segment on the problems facing the news industry, host John Oliver zeroed in on the embattled Tribune Company. 

“Just this year its publishing arm, Tribune Publishing, has been rebranded into something much, much stupider,” he says. “Tronc! They have chosen to call themselves Tronc! Which sounds like the noise an ejaculating elephant makes. Or more appropriately the sound of a stack of print newspapers being thrown into a Dumpster.” 

Oliver adds his voice to the chorus of media critics who, since the company rebranded in June, have derided Tronc’s laughably unintelligible promotional videos and dizzying use of digital-media buzzwords.

“They’re going to feed journalism into a funnel?!” he says. “Oh, we’re just going to take content and cram it down your throat like you’re an abused goose.”

Of another of Tronc’s “meaningless” visual aids, Oliver says, “It looks like a bunch of digital sperm impregnating a Tronc egg.”

And yet, somewhat conspicuously, there’s no mention of Tronc chairman Michael Ferro, the artificial intelligence-obsessed technology entrepreneur who engineered the rebranding. (And who, until recently, owned a controlling stake in Wrapports, the Reader‘s parent company.)

Tronc isn’t the only media property or news personality the segment skewers. Oliver calls Sam Zell, the Tribune Company’s former majority shareholder, a “billionaire investor and living garden gnome,” before playing an infamous clip in which Zell tells the staff of the Tribune-owned Orlando Sentinel: “Hopefully we get to the point where our revenue is so significant that we can do puppies and Iraq. OK? Fuck you.” He dubs the Huffington Post “Arianna Huffington’s blockquote junction and book-excerpt clearinghouse.” He burns cable news: “Without newspapers around to cite, TV news would just be Wolf Blitzer endlessly batting a ball of yarn around.”

He even takes Last Week Tonight down a peg: “Whenever this show is mistakenly called journalism,” Oliver says, “it is a slap in the face of the actual journalists whose work we rely on.”