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Salvaged publisher's newspapers set for sale

2 Jan 2013 SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
BY CHRISTINE HAUGHNEY


PROSPECTIVE buyers are preparing for horse trading to begin over the Tribune Co's newspapers now that the company, whose holdings include The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune, has emerged from bankruptcy protection.

Tribune - which completed its bankruptcy paperwork this week - has not announced the sale of assets, but it is likely to do so in the next several months so it can streamline its business said Reed Phillips, a managing partner of DeSilva & Phillips, a media banking firm.

The troubled state of the newspaper industry makes those assets most likely to be sold, he added. Less clear is whether the company will sell them all at once or by region. "The company is too large and complex right now, coming out of bankruptcy," Mr Phillips said. "What's needed is a more focused strategy."

Aaron Kushner, the chief executive of Freedom Communications and publisher of The Orange County Register in California, confirmed on Monday that he was eager to buy Tribune's newspapers.

He said that from what he had gleaned from bankruptcy court filings and public pension documents, it seemed likely Tribune would sell its newspapers as a group. That is because the company has such complex pension obligations and corporate overheads that it would be difficult to untangle them and sell properties individually.

"We're interested in all of the papers, though obviously, from an outside perspective, we have not seen the numbers," said Mr Kushner. "If papers are sold, someone has to be responsible for the pensions."

The company's reorganisation plan was approved in July by the US Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. It received final approval from the Federal Communications Commission in November.

The announcement on Monday ended a four-year process for the company. Its assets were tied up in court while the media industry continued its digital transformation. In a letter to employees, Eddy Hartenstein, Tribune's chief executive, acknowledged that the past four years had been "challenging."

The end of the bankruptcy has led to plenty of speculation about who might buy Tribune's newspapers, with names including Rupert Murdoch and David Geffen floated as contenders. Mr Phillips said he was sceptical that Mr Murdoch would be a serious bidder because his company had so much else on its plate.

"I would think they would take a look," said Mr Phillips. "But when it comes to stepping up and making a substantial offer, I would be surprised. They're already splitting off the publishing business from the entertainment business."

The New York Times

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