Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Can't Tell Tribune Co. Suitors Without a Scorecard

English: Downtown Chicago, Illinois at night. ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As former denizens of Chicago, the devoted staff of "TUOL" keeps close tabs on the embattled Tribune Co., blogging when the media conglomerate unveiled plans to unload its newspaper holdings (see "TUOL" post 2/27/13) and when the company emerged from a bloody four-year Chapter 11 bankruptcy (see "TUOL" post 1/2/13).

Therefore, "TUOL" is grateful to the Orange County Register ("OCR") for its update today about the would-be suitors for the Trib Co.'s metro dailies, including the flagship Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and Hartford Courant. Industry analysts expect the conglomerate to divest itself of its revenue-starved print properties by the end of the year, so that it can focus on its broadcasting component. The company has enlisted investment bankers Evercore Partners and JP MorganChase to sniff out would-be buyers and assess the available options.

The OCR article is most interested in the fate of the Los Angeles Times, the nation's fourth-largest newspaper with a combined print and digital readership of more than 653,000, and counts among its courters, OCR's owner, Freedom Communications CEO Aaron Kushner, whose 2100 Trust investment arm snatched up the OCR in 2012.

Thus far, the most controversial possible suitors are David Koch and Charles Koch, a/k/a the Koch Brothers, holders of sixth place on the 2013 Forbes Magazine billionaires list, arch-conservative major funders of Tea Party and Libertarian political groups and tormenters of small, furry mammals (that may not be true). The Koch duo has not specifically mentioned the Tribune Co. stable of dailies, but has been widely quoted in the media as being expressly interested in jumping into the newspaper biz. An L.A. Weekly story in March, according to the OCR piece, linked the Kochs to the LA Times, which has helped to mobilize unions, liberal activists and others to protest such a move and to seek online contributions to purchase the Times before the Kochs can.

Another conservative boogeyman in the eyes of liberals everywhere, Rupert Murdoch, executive chair of News Corp., no doubt would like to add Tribune Co.-owned dailies to his trophy collection that includes The Wall St. Journal, Times of London and New York Post, but may run afoul of FCC cross-ownership rules in his quest.

The OCR article notes a local Los Angeles moneyed trio, known as the "3Bs," who at the very least, would like to snatch the LA Times, if not all the Tribune Co. dailies. The group consists of former LA deputy mayor Austin Beutner, Ron Burkle and Eli Broad.  Although his initial interest appears to have waned, the OCR piece includes among the potential suitors Douglas Manchester, owner of the U-T San Diego.

Were the Tribune Co. newspapers to be sold individually, possible buyers mentioned include billionaire Warren Buffett, who is building up newspaper holdings (see "TUOL" posts 2/26/13, 5/17/12) and may wish to add the (Allentown, Penn.) Morning Call. Also, the OCR suggests Chicago Sun-Times owner Wrapport, Ltd., might be interested in acquiring the rival Chicago Tribune, but "TUOL" believes that is off-base, particularly because the Sun-Times has its corporate hands full paying its printing bills to the Tribune (see "TUOL" post 4/2/13).

In the end, it's all a parlor game, akin to political pundits who already have Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio facing off in the 2016 presidential election, but the staff of "TUOL" will continue to monitor the fate of the Chicago Tribune, which, though hardly beloved, is at least familiar.

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