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Tronc wants to gobble up Sun-Times

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

* Tribune

In the long and raucous, altogether lively if recently beleaguered history of Chicago newspapers, Monday will rank as a “stop-the-presses” day after it was announced that, in short headline style: “Chicago Tribune Seeks To Buy Chicago Sun-Times.”

Tronc, the parent company of the Tribune, has entered into a nonbinding letter of intent to acquire Wrapports Holdings, which owns the Sun-Times as well other assets such as the Chicago Reader alternative weekly, the Aggrego digital content business and the syndicated column The Straight Dope.

The announcement follows months of discussions between Wrapports and Tronc and after both organizations worked closely with the Department of Justice’s antitrust division.

The tentative deal means Chicago would remain one of the last two-newspaper cities in the country, though those papers would operate under a single corporate owner. Terms of the potential deal were not disclosed.

“There are minor points still to be worked out, but we are confident that we will be able to move forward on this transaction and reach a definitive agreement,” said Tronc CEO Justin Dearborn. “This is generally viewed as good for all Tronc shareholders.”

* Sun-Times

The Sun-Times is publishing a full-page advertisement in Tuesday’s paper “seeking new ownership that will commit to preserving the Sun-Times as an independent news source in the city of Chicago,” Wrapports officials said in a statement.

After that, the Sun-Times will be sold to Tronc “if no other viable buyer expressing substantial interest” within 15 days, according to the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, which investigates newspaper mergers. Tronc also would acquire the alternative weekly Chicago Reader and Wrapports’ stake in Aggrego, a digital content company.

Federal investigators “will closely monitor the sale process for the Chicago Sun-Times, including whether any other viable buyer expresses interest,” according to a Justice Department statement.

In a memo to employees, Sun-Times Publisher and Editor In Chief Jim Kirk said the companies entered discussions several months ago and informed the Justice Department of the “possibility of a transaction.”

* Robert Feder

Assurances by both companies that the Sun-Times would remain editorially independent did little to quell fears of substantial cutbacks to the city’s No. 2 daily. The Tribune’s own account described the deal as “providing a lifeline to the scrappy but struggling tabloid.” Others viewed it as the beginning of the end.

The man behind all the machinations is Michael Ferro, the Chicago tech entrepreneur who headed Wrapports until 2016 when he switched sides to become chairman of Tribune Publishing, later renamed tronc.

Ferro has never disavowed ambitions to take back the Sun-Times and combine its ownership with the Tribune. In an interview weeks after he took over the Tribune, Ferro said of buying the Sun-Times: “I do see that someday, and why not?”

* Crain’s

The structure for the two newspapers will not look like a joint operation venture, a setup that some rival newspapers have used in years past to share costs without blending their newsrooms. Knight didn’t provide details on what exactly the infrastructure would look like, what costs would be shared and whether there would be new management. “We are working through all of that right now,” he said. “The Chicago Sun-Times will continue to be operated as an independent newsroom, and that’s where there’s benefits for the readers and citizens of Chicago.”

* Politico

If there’s any potential political winner here, it could be Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner was an early investor with Ferro when he first bought the paper in 2011. Under Ferro (and Tim Knight, who has now landed back at tronc) the Sun-Times stopped all political endorsements. That is until the governor’s race in 2014, when it suddenly came out and endorsed its former investor, Bruce Rauner, for governor. The Sun-Times editorial board has just reestablished its independence, moving more to the left, recently laying the state’s budget impasse at the governor’s feet. That’s in contrast to the Trib’s editorial board, which is strongly pro-Rauner.

* Related…

* Tribune Media agrees to $3.9 billion sale to Sinclair

* New hires at WICS-TV; Sinclair content defended

* Sam Zell writes about his wins, losses — including Tribune deal

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - AC - Tuesday, May 16, 17 @ 11:26 am:

    At times, it seems as if the Supreme Court decision on Standard Oil never happened.

  2. - A guy - Tuesday, May 16, 17 @ 11:40 am:

    I miss Jim Tyree.

  3. - Responsa - Tuesday, May 16, 17 @ 11:41 am:

    It would be nice if there was a bidding war for a major American city newspaper like the ST (or Trib). But there isn’t and likely will not be. Almost all newspapers are shrinking and losing readership. The reliance on AP for aggregation and an over-emphasis on “analysis” and nationally syndicated “opinion pieces” has made city newspapers’ once individual coverage, unique styles and their print personalities all but disappear. We will be a diminished two paper town or a diminished one paper town. There does not seem to be a rosy possibility or good outcome to this.

  4. - RNUG - Tuesday, May 16, 17 @ 11:42 am:

    Maybe JB would want to be a publisher?

  5. - RNUG - Tuesday, May 16, 17 @ 11:43 am:

    Imagine how much fun board meetings could be …

  6. - Anonymous - Tuesday, May 16, 17 @ 11:45 am:

    We need Marshall Fields.

  7. - Dirty Red - Tuesday, May 16, 17 @ 12:10 pm:

    Rich, time for you and McKinney to pool resources and swoop in.

  8. - Annonin' - Tuesday, May 16, 17 @ 12:15 pm:

    So when Tronc gets this done Gannett can step in and sprinkle cash on the investors and whoosh.

  9. - wordslinger - Tuesday, May 16, 17 @ 12:25 pm:

    So Ferro wants to buy the Sun-Times, but they’ll be editorially “independent?” So why buy them? Charity?

    Some young ladies might pretend to believe that kind of nonsense talk when you’re flashing hondos in the Viagra Triangle, but it’s not believable on its face.

  10. - Anonymous - Tuesday, May 16, 17 @ 12:27 pm:

    This is bad. Billionaires buying elected office, billionaires buying the “independent” media which will be reporting on them (or not).

  11. - Winnin' - Tuesday, May 16, 17 @ 12:31 pm:

    Mike Royko would probably surmise that no self-respecting fish would want to be wrapped in either paper.

  12. - Amalia - Tuesday, May 16, 17 @ 12:37 pm:

    I’m worried on general news, political content, and even sports and culture writing as there need to be competing opinions. A review can make or break something. One opinion may not be fair. How will this actually go in the future? is it better to have them own it than have it go out of business?

  13. - lake county democrat - Tuesday, May 16, 17 @ 1:35 pm:

    I wish Pritzker had bought one of these two outfits a la Jeff Bezos as his act of public service instead of running for governor (I’ll gladly eat those words if he wins).

  14. - W Flag - Tuesday, May 16, 17 @ 1:42 pm:

    The Sun-Times has been reduced to a skeleton of a newspaper. It has pulled every possible stunt to stave off death.

    If not for the racing entries, I would not touch the Times.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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