Tribune Co. (TRBAA), the media company that entered discussions to sell its newspapers earlier this year, is seeking a single buyer for all of the publications, said two people with knowledge of the process.
Tribune, which emerged from bankruptcy at the end of 2012, owns the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and six other daily papers. While the bidding is still in the early stages, the company is seeking acquirers who are willing to purchase the newspaper chain together, said the people, who asked not to be named because the talks are private.
Doing a single transaction would simplify the process for Tribune, letting it focus on its more lucrative television business. The company, based in Chicago, hired former Fox Broadcasting President Peter Liguori as its chief executive officer in January. Tribune operates 23 TV stations, along with websites such as Cars.com.
Freedom Communications Inc. is a potential buyer of the whole chain. The company, which publishes the Orange County Register and other papers in California and Arizona, sees value in owning all of Tribune’s newspapers, Chief Executive Officer Aaron Kushner said in an interview.
“We do happen to believe all of Tribune’s newspapers may likely fit the profile of what would work for our business model and team,” he said. “But there are no shortcuts, and we intend to make sure that before we take responsibility for a community’s newspaper, we know we can manage it and help it grow. When you buy a newspaper for a community it’s a real long- term commitment.”
Other parties would prefer to purchase individual publications rather than the entire lot, according to the people familiar with the matter. Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp., is considering the Los Angeles Times, while Wrapports LLC, the publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, is interested in the Chicago Tribune, the people said.
Warren Buffett, who told investors last week that he’s looking to buy more newspapers, has expressed interest in the Morning Call, the people said. That paper, which serves Allentown, Pennsylvania, is one of the smallest in Tribune Co.’s collection. The chain also includes the Baltimore Sun.
It may still be possible for multiple bidders to team up on a single transaction depending on how the negotiations go, the people said. Tribune is assessing deals with the help of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Evercore Partners Inc. (EVR), which were hired as financial advisers after the company received unsolicited interest in the newspapers, people familiar with the matter said last week.
Gary Weitman, a Tribune spokesman, declined to comment, as did Nathaniel Brown, a spokesman for New York-based News Corp. Alisa Alexander, a spokeswoman for Wrapports, said the company is looking at some of Tribune’s assets, without elaborating. A representative for Buffett didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Tribune’s publishing group was valued at about $623 million in its bankruptcy filings, $300 million lower than a January 2011 estimate.
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