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Brooke Sutherland

Hedge Fund or Billionaire? For Tribune, It’s a No-Brainer

An 11th-hour bid for Tribune Publishing from two would-be white knights offers the newspaper owner’s board the chance to do the right thing for journalism.

A hedge fund’s loss may be journalism’s win in the Tribune Publishing takeover saga. 

A hedge fund’s loss may be journalism’s win in the Tribune Publishing takeover saga. 

Photographer: Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg

The newspaper business is no fairy tale, especially these days. But the years-long takeover saga involving Tribune Publishing Co., the company behind the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and other storied mastheads, may get a happy ending after all. A Maryland real estate magnate and a Swiss billionaire have made a $680 million acquisition offer in an effort to wrest control of the publisher from Alden Global Capital LLC, a hedge fund infamous for its aggressive cost-cutting tactics. 

Tribune’s 11th-hour would-be white knights are Choice Hotels International Inc. chairman Stewart Bainum Jr. and Hansjoerg Wyss, an environmental philanthropist and the founder of medical-device maker Synthes, which was sold for about $20 billion to Johnson & Johnson in 2012. Bainum had a deal with Alden to acquire the Baltimore Sun and affiliated regional papers and put them into a public trust, but that arrangement reportedly fell apart after the hedge fund demanded payments for back-office services during the ownership transition that outstripped the $65 million purchase price. The special committee of Tribune’s board tasked with reviewing takeover offers said Monday that Bainum and Wyss’s $18.50-a-share bid is “reasonably” likely to lead to a proposal that’s superior to Alden’s $17.25 offer. This legal phrasing opens the door for Bainum and Wyss to conduct due diligence and engage in discussions with the Tribune board, although the directors technically continue to recommend shareholders vote for the Alden deal and the hedge fund can still topple the counterbid with a higher offer.