But despite engineering the company's 1993 acquisitions of Compton's Multimedia Publishing and Contemporary Books, John Madigan is also keen to build Tribune Co.'s traditional publishing business, which still provides 72% of company profits.
"I would also like to see us acquire more good newspapers," he said. "I think we can handle the management of more. We have good people in our papers. If there are requirements to supplement the management of any papers we'd acquire, we have the talent to do it."
Despite Tribune Co.'s recent experience with the New York Daily News, which culminated in its sale, Mr. Madigan is bullish about newspapers, especially major market papers with dominant positions. (Company officials blame labor woes and the Daily News' lack of a leading market position for the New York withdrawal.)
"We think our niche is the major metropolitan newspapers. We think the prospects are better in those markets," he said. "The sophistication in those markets provides more opportunities for the future ... many more alternatives. That is where we are concentrating our efforts."
Mr. Madigan makes it clear he expects some big papers to be put up for sale soon, though he won't discuss specific markets.
In some markets, Tribune Co. would run afoul of the Federal Communications Commission because of rules barring cross-ownership of TV stations and newspapers, but analysts say that wouldn't be a problem if industry speculation about the San Francisco Chronicle being put up for sale is accurate.
Mr. Madigan last week took over as president-chief operating officer of Tribune Co., which had $1.9 billion in operating revenue last year. He had been president-CEO of Tribune Publishing and publisher of the Chicago Tribune; Chicago Tribune Co. President-CEO Jack Fuller adds the publisher's title.
Educational software is an exciting growth field for Mr. Madigan to add to Tribune Co.'s multimedia holdings, which include TV, radio and cable stations, and such newspapers as the Chicago Tribune, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Sun-Sentinel and The Orlando Sentinel.
Though Mr. Madigan hesitates to talk in detail about Tribune Co.'s broadcasting side before actually getting some experience in his new job, he's excited to talk about recent acquisitions in software.
Mr. Madigan said he sees educational media developing into a major business both through growth of existing businesses and new acquisitions.
His optimism is in part due to the company's heightened level of communication with other publishers.
Those publishers are close observers of Tribune Co.'s activity in new technologies. A minority owner of America Online, Tribune Co. is a data provider for a Chicago unit called Chicago Online. It holds a minority interest in a computer-based grocery shopping service called Peapod; owns ChicagoLand Television News, a local 24-hour cable news channel; and provides audiotext and photo services for a variety of media outlets.
"As we are on the leading edge of some of the new developments in the business in reusing or refocusing the content we have in our newspapers, the dialogue we have with a lot of papers is much greater than it has ever been," Mr. Madigan said. "We also are looking at what other people are doing, very aggressively doing, around the industry. All of this allows you to be better connected. If there are opportunities for mergers and acquisitions, we will be better positioned to do that."
Formerly an exec VP of the parent company, Mr. Madigan is heir apparent to Tribune Co. Chairman-CEO Charles Brumback, 65.
Mr. Madigan, 56, makes no secret about his intention to carry through on the skills he gained as an investment banker to take the company into new areas.
Mr. Madigan joined Tribune Co. in 1975 as VP-chief financial officer after being the company's investment banker at Salomon Bros. In 1989, he was named president-CEO of Chicago Tribune Co., the unit that publishes the Tribune, and in 1990 became publisher of the Tribune.
His rise at Tribune Co. put Mr. Madigan at loggerheads with then-Editor Jim Squires, who had aspired to the publisher position. Mr. Squires left and subsequently wrote a book criticizing corporate intrusion into journalism-taking clear aim at Mr. Madigan's journalistic credentials.
However, some analysts suggest Mr. Madigan's experience is exactly what the company needs.
"I have two conflicting views," said J. Kendrick Noble Jr., owner of Noble Consultants, a Bronxville, N.Y., media industry consultancy. "I think it is desirable to know something about the companies you are trying to run, but I think diversification in one's background is good. And in this case, he's spent a lot of time with the company with a lot of responsibility, and he has some diverse experience though not much on the entertainment side. I think he's a quality guy."
Mr. Noble noted the future direction of media is far from certain with technologies like faxes, interactive computers, TV and telecommunications all converging.
Mr. Madigan said he sees the level of change in the media industry increasing with new amalgamations for a variety of purposes.
"I think change is going to accelerate," he said. "There have been setbacks and a lot of things ... have gotten unwound, but there's still a lot of talk going on, and a lot of people are doing things."
Mr. Madigan said Tribune Co. is willing to work with a variety of players-including phone companies-and has something to offer both in joint partnerships and in acquisitions.
"We think we have the cash flow to fuel growth in all three areas [newspapers, broadcasting and software]. We have a good stock that is attractive. We talk to people, and they are very interested in taking our stock ... If we restrict ourselves, we will be limiting our opportunity.
"We have set the stage to stay abreast of all major developments. We want to position ourselves, no matter what the technologies, to get information to readers and listeners."