Swiss Billionaire Is a Top Bidder for the Tribune Newspapers

Mr. Wyss, who has pledged to donate half his money to charity, has given hundreds of millions to environmental and conservation causes. Through his foundations, he has gradually increased his donations to groups that promote abortion rights, minimum wage increases and other progressive causes.

He became a member of the Democracy Alliance, a club of liberal donors, as well as the board of the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank that got its start with support from Democracy Alliance donors. The think tank and its sister political group have received more than $6.1 million from foundations linked to Mr. Wyss, according to tax filings.

Mr. Podesta, the founder of the Center for American Progress, has also advised the Wyss Foundation, including on the hiring of The Hub Project’s executive director, Arkadi Gerney, a former official at the Center for American Progress, according to people with knowledge of the arrangement.

The Hub Project came out of the idea that Democrats should be more effective in conveying their arguments through the news media and directly to voters. Its business plan, a 21-page document prepared for the Wyss Foundation in 2015, recommended that the group “be solely funded by the Wyss Foundation at the outset” and that it would work behind the scenes to “dramatically shift the public debate and policy positions of core decision makers.” The plan added that The Hub Project “is not intended to be the public face of campaigns.”

The Hub Project is part of an opaque network managed by a Washington consulting firm, Arabella Advisors, that has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars through a daisy chain of groups supporting Democrats and progressive causes. The system of political financing, which often obscures the identities of donors, is known as dark money, and Arabella’s network is a leading vehicle for it on the left.

The Arabella network has similarities to the operation created by the Kochs. Democrats have long criticized the Kochs and others who have engaged in the hard-to-track political spending unleashed in part by the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2010 Citizens United case.

The Arabella network’s money flows through four nonprofits that serve as parent structures for a range of groups, including The Hub Project. The nonprofits then pass some of the funds along to other nonprofit groups or super PACs.

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Why Buy a Yacht When You Can Buy a Newspaper?

Billionaires have had a pretty good pandemic. There are more of them than there were a year ago, even as the crisis has exacerbated inequality. But scrutiny has followed these ballooning fortunes. Policymakers are debating new taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. Even their philanthropy has come under increasing criticism as an exercise of power as much as generosity.

One arena in which the billionaires can still win plaudits as civic-minded saviors is buying the metropolitan daily newspaper.

The local business leader might not have seemed like such a salvation a quarter century ago, before Craigslist, Google and Facebook began divvying up newspapers’ fat ad revenues. Generally, the neighborhood billionaires are considered worth a careful look by the paper’s investigative unit. But a lot of papers don’t even have an investigative unit anymore, and the priority is survival.

This media landscape nudged newspaper ownership from the vanity column toward the philanthropy side of the ledger. Paying for a few more reporters and to fix the coffee machine can earn you acclaim for a lot less effort than, say, spending two decades building the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

$680 million bid by Hansjörg Wyss, a little-known Swiss billionaire, and Stewart W. Bainum Jr., a Maryland hotel magnate, for Tribune Publishing and its roster of storied broadsheets and tabloids like The Chicago Tribune, The Daily News and The Baltimore Sun.

Should Mr. Wyss and Mr. Bainum succeed in snatching Tribune away from Alden Global Capital, whose bid for the company had already won the backing of Tribune’s board, the purchase will represent the latest example of a more than decade-long quest by some of America’s ultrawealthy to prop up a crumbling pillar of democracy.

If there was a signal year in this development, it came in 2013. That is when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post and the Red Sox’ owner, John Henry, bought The Boston Globe.

“I invested in The Globe because I believe deeply in the future of this great community, and The Globe should play a vital role in determining that future,” Mr. Henry wrote at the time.

led a revival of the paper to its former glory. And after a somewhat rockier start, experts said that Mr. Henry and his wife, Linda Pizzuti Henry, the chief executive officer of Boston Globe Media Partners, have gone a long way toward restoring that paper as well.

Norman Pearlstine, who served as executive editor for two years after Dr. Soon-Shiong’s purchase and still serves as a senior adviser. “I don’t think that’s open to debate or dispute.”

From Utah to Minnesota and from Long Island to the Berkshires, local grandees have decided that a newspaper is an essential part of the civic fabric. Their track records as owners are somewhat mixed, but mixed in this case is better than the alternative.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released a report last year showing that in the previous 15 years, more than a quarter of American newspapers disappeared, leaving behind what they called “news deserts.” The 2020 report was an update of a similar one from 2018, but just in those two years another 300 newspapers died, taking 6,000 journalism jobs with them.

“I don’t think anybody in the news business even has rose colored glasses anymore,” said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, a nonprofit journalism advocacy group. “They took them off a few years ago, and they don’t know where they are.”

“The advantage of a local owner who cares about the community is that they in theory can give you runway and also say, ‘Operate at break-even on a cash-flow basis and you’re good,’” said Mr. Rosenstiel.

won a prestigious Polk Award for its coverage of the killing of George Floyd and the aftermath.

“The communities that have papers owned by very wealthy people in general have fared much better because they stayed the course with large newsrooms,” said Ken Doctor, on hiatus as a media industry analyst to work as C.E.O. and founder of Lookout Local, which is trying to revive the local news business in smaller markets, starting in Santa Cruz, Calif. Hedge funds, by contrast, have expected as much as 20 percent of revenue a year from their properties, which can often be achieved only by stripping papers of reporters and editors for short-term gain.

Alden has made deep cuts at many of its MediaNews Group publications, including The Denver Post and The San Jose Mercury News. Alden argues that it is rescuing papers that might otherwise have gone out of business in the past two decades.

And a billionaire buyer is far from a panacea for the industry’s ills. “It’s not just, go find yourself a rich guy. It’s the right rich person. There are lots of people with lots of money. A lot of them shouldn’t run newspaper companies,” said Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and the former editor of The Chicago Tribune. “Sam Zell is Exhibit A. So be careful who you ask.”

beaten a retreat from the industry. And there have even been reports that Dr. Soon-Shiong has explored a sale of The Los Angeles Times (which he has denied).

“The great fear of every billionaire is that by owning a newspaper they will become a millionaire,” said Mr. Rosenstiel.

Elizabeth Green, co-founder and chief executive at Chalkbeat, a nonprofit education news organization with 30 reporters in eight cities around the country, said that rescuing a dozen metro dailies that are “obviously shells of their former selves” was never going to be enough to turn around the local news business.

“Even these attempts are still preserving institutions that were always flawed and not leaning into the new information economy and how we all consume and learn and pay for things,” said Ms. Green, who also co-founded the American Journalism Project, which is working to create a network of nonprofit outlets.

Ms. Green is not alone in her belief that the future of American journalism lies in new forms of journalism, often as nonprofits. The American Journalism Project received funding from the Houston philanthropists Laura and John Arnold, the Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and Laurene Powell Jobs’s Emerson Collective, which also bought The Atlantic. Herbert and Marion Sandler, who built one of the country’s largest savings and loans, gave money to start ProPublica.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth of relatively small nonprofits that are now part of what I would call the philanthropic journalistic complex,” said Mr. Doctor. “The question really isn’t corporate structure, nonprofit or profit, the question is money and time.”

operating as a nonprofit.

After the cable television entrepreneur H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest bought The Philadelphia Inquirer, he set up a hybrid structure. The paper is run as a for-profit, public benefit corporation, but it belongs to a nonprofit called the Lenfest Institute. The complex structure is meant to maintain editorial independence and maximum flexibility to run as a business while also encouraging philanthropic support.

Of the $7 million that Lenfest gave to supplement The Inquirer’s revenue from subscribers and advertisers in 2020, only $2 million of it came from the institute, while the remaining $5 million came from a broad array of national, local, institutional and independent donors, said Jim Friedlich, executive director and chief executive of Lenfest.

“I think philosophically, we’ve long accepted that we have no museums or opera houses without philanthropic support,” said Ms. Lipinski. “I think journalism deserves the same consideration.”

Mr. Bainum has said he plans to establish a nonprofit group that would buy The Sun and two other Tribune-owned Maryland newspapers if he and Mr. Wyss succeed in their bid.

“These buyers range across the political spectrum, and on the surface have little in common except their wealth,” said Mr. Friedlich. “Each seems to feel that American democracy is sailing through choppy waters, and they’ve decided to buy a newspaper instead of a yacht.”

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Tribune Publishing Considers New Offer From Surprise Bidders

Tribune Publishing, the newspaper chain that includes The Chicago Tribune, The Daily News and The Baltimore Sun, said on Monday that it has begun serious discussions about a sale of the company to a pair of bidders who came through with an offer nearly two months after Tribune agreed to sell itself to Alden Global Capital, a New York hedge fund.

The new bid, which is greater than the amount offered by Alden, was made on Thursday by Stewart W. Bainum Jr., a Maryland hotel magnate, and Hansjörg Wyss, a Swiss billionaire who made his fortune as a manufacturer of medical devices.

The two have joined together in a company called Newslight. Tribune Publishing announced on Monday that it would “engage in discussions and negotiations” with Mr. Bainum and Mr. Wyss. The company added that, for now, it will not “terminate the Alden merger agreement or enter into any merger agreement with Newslight, Mr. Bainum or Mr. Wyss.”

Until recently, it looked as though Alden Global Capital would almost certainly become the next owner of Tribune. Late last month, Mr. Wyss emerged as a surprise new player, telling The New York Times that he would team up with Mr. Bainum in a bid for the chain. On Thursday, Mr. Wyss and Mr. Bainum submitted their bid, which valued Tribune at $18.50 a share, beating Alden’s offer of $17.25.

reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.

Tribune Publishing said on Monday that its special committee had determined that the competing bid from Mr. Wyss and Mr. Bainum would be reasonably expected to lead to a “superior proposal” than the Alden bid.

But the Tribune advised caution, telling shareholders, “There can be no assurance that the discussions with Newslight and its principals will result in a binding proposal.”

Nearly two months ago, Mr. Bainum had reached a nonbinding agreement to establish a nonprofit that would buy The Sun and two other Tribune-owned Maryland newspapers from Alden, for $65 million, after the Alden-Tribune deal gained shareholder approval. That agreement ran into trouble soon after it was made, however. Last month, Mr. Bainum, the chairman of Choice Hotels International, one of the world’s largest hotel chains, made a bid for all of Tribune, offering $18.50 a share.

After considering the bid from Mr. Bainum last month, Tribune said it still favored the agreement with Alden, which had solid financing. At the same time, the board informed Mr. Bainum that he was free to find backers to make his offer more attractive. He did just that by joining with Mr. Wyss.

opinion essay in which two former Chicago Tribune reporters, David Jackson and Gary Marx, warned that Alden would create “a ghost version of The Chicago Tribune.” Other Tribune journalists, from California to Maryland, have led campaigns to persuade local benefactors to buy Tribune Publishing, or at least one of its papers.

Mr. Wyss, who lives in Wyoming, said he joined the effort to buy Tribune because of his belief in a robust press. “I don’t want to see another newspaper that has a chance to increase the amount of truth being told to the American people going down the drain,” he said in the interview last month.

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Swiss Billionaire Joins the Bidding for Tribune Publishing

An octogenarian Swiss billionaire who makes his home in Wyoming and has donated hundreds of millions to environmental causes is a surprise new player in the bidding for Tribune Publishing, the major newspaper chain that until recently seemed destined to end up in the hands of a New York hedge fund.

Hansjörg Wyss (pronounced Hans-yorg Vees), the former chief executive of the medical device manufacturer Synthes, said in an interview on Friday that he had agreed to join with the Maryland hotelier Stewart W. Bainum Jr. in a bid for Tribune Publishing, an offer that could upend Alden Global Capital’s plan to take full ownership of the company.

Mr. Wyss, who has given away some of his fortune to help preserve wildlife habitats in Wyoming, Montana and Maine, said he was motivated to join the Tribune bid by his belief in the need for a robust press. “I have an opportunity to do 500 times more than what I’m doing now,” he said.

Alden, which already owns roughly 32 percent of Tribune Publishing shares, is known for drastically cutting costs at the newspapers it controls through its MediaNews Group subsidiary. Last month, the hedge fund reached an agreement with Tribune, whose papers include The Daily News, The Baltimore Sun and The Chicago Tribune, to buy the rest of the company’s shares at $17.25 apiece.

Choice Hotels International, one of the world’s largest hotel chains, to make a bid on March 16 for all of Tribune, beating Alden’s number with an offer of $18.50 a share.

That bid valued the company at about $650 million. The Alden agreement valued Tribune at roughly $630 million.

Tribune was not swayed by Mr. Bainum’s offer. A securities filing on Tuesday revealed that the company’s board recommended that shareholders approve the Alden bid. At the same time, the Tribune board gave Mr. Bainum the go-ahead to pursue financing for his higher bid.

He has done just that by teaming with Mr. Wyss, who said in the interview that he planned to own the company’s flagship paper while he and Mr. Bainum seek benefactors for Tribune’s seven other metro dailies, which include The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant.

“He made that bid because he wants The Baltimore Sun,” Mr. Wyss said, referring to Mr. Bainum. “I said, ‘Yeah, that’s fine. And I have to make The Tribune even better than what it is now.’”

the sale of Synthes to Johnson & Johnson for roughly $20 billion. Mr. Wyss and his family — a daughter, Amy, also lives in Wyoming — had the largest stake in Synthes, owning nearly half the shares.

The sale of Tribune, which the newspaper company hopes to conclude by July, requires regulatory approval and yes votes from company shareholders representing two-thirds of the non-Alden stock. The medical entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong, who owns The Los Angeles Times with his wife, Michele B. Chan, has enough Tribune shares to squash the Alden deal by himself. Dr. Soon-Shiong declined to comment on Saturday.

Mr. Wyss said he would be a civic-minded custodian of The Chicago Tribune. “I don’t want to see another newspaper that has a chance to increase the amount of truth being told to the American people going down the drain,” he said.

Alden’s potential acquisition of Tribune has been fiercely opposed by many journalists at Tribune papers. Alden has aggressively cut costs at many MediaNews Group publications, including The Denver Post and The San Jose Mercury News. Critics say the hedge fund sacrifices journalistic quality for greater profits, while Alden argues that it saves papers that would otherwise join the thousands that have gone out of business in the last two decades.

Mr. Wyss, 85, said he was partly inspired to join Mr. Bainum by a New York Times opinion essay last year in which two Chicago Tribune reporters, David Jackson and Gary Marx, warned that an Alden purchase would lead to “a ghost version of The Chicago Tribune — a newspaper that can no longer carry out its essential watchdog mission.” Since that article appeared, both reporters have left the paper.

Mr. Wyss, born in Bern, first visited the United States as an exchange student in 1958, working for the Colorado Highway Department. He was a journalist as a young man, he said, covering skiing for Neue Zürcher Zeitung, a Zurich paper, and filing dispatches on American sports to Der Bund, a Bern paper, when he was studying at Harvard Business School.

He said he believed The Chicago Tribune would prosper under his ownership.

“Maybe I’m naïve,” Mr. Wyss said, “but the combination of giving enough money to a professional staff to do the right things and putting quite a bit of money into digital will eventually make it a very profitable newspaper.”

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Jobless Claims Fall to Lowest Point in the Pandemic: Live Updates

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell last week to 657,000, a decrease of 100,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. It was the lowest weekly level of initial state claims since the pandemic upended the economy a year ago.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 684,000.

In addition, there were 242,000 new claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits, a decrease of 43,000.

Unemployment claims have been at historically high levels for the past year, partly because some workers have been laid off more than once.

“The labor market will benefit from a reopening, but it will take time for a complete recovery,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics. “The economy is doing well, but the job market is still far away from where it needs to be.”

Although the pace of vaccinations, as well as passage of a $1.9 trillion relief package this month, has lifted economists’ expectations for growth, the labor market has lagged behind other measures of recovery.

Still, the easing of restrictions on indoor dining areas, health clubs, movie theaters and other gathering places offers hope for the millions of workers who were let go in the last 12 months. And the $1,400 checks going to most Americans as part of the relief bill should help spending perk up in the weeks ahead.

Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton, said she hoped for consistent employment gains but her optimism was tempered by concern about the longer-term displacement of workers by the pandemic.

“We’ve passed the point where you can just flip a switch and the lights come back on,” she said. “We need to see a sustained increase in hiring, which I think we will see, but the concern is that it won’t be so robust. It takes longer to ramp up than it does to shut down.”

Most of United’s new flights will connect cities in the Midwest to tourist destinations.
Credit…Sebastian Hidalgo for The New York Times

United Airlines plans to add more than two dozen new flights starting Memorial Day weekend, the latest sign that demand for leisure travel is picking up as the national vaccination rate moves higher.

Most of the new flights will connect cities in the Midwest to tourist destinations, such as Charleston, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina; Portland, Maine; Savannah, Ga.; and Pensacola, Fla. United also said it planned to offer more flights to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America in May than it did during the same month in 2019.

The airline has seen ticket sales rise in recent weeks, according to Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president of domestic network planning and scheduling. Customers are booking tickets further out, too, he said, suggesting growing confidence in travel.

“Over the past 12 months, this is the first time we are really feeling more bullish,” Mr. Gupta said.

Airports have been consistently busier in recent weeks than at any point since the coronavirus pandemic brought travel to a standstill a year ago. Well over one million people were screened at airport security checkpoints each day over the past two weeks, according to the Transportation Security Administration, although the number of screenings is down more than 40 percent compared with the same period in 2019.

Most of the new United flights will be offered between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend aboard the airline’s regional jets, which have 50 seats. The airline said it would also add new flights between Houston and Kalispell, Mont.; Washington and Bozeman, Mont.; Chicago and Nantucket, Mass.; and Orange County, Calif., and Honolulu.

All told, United said it planned to operate about 58 percent as many domestic flights this May as it did in May 2019 and 46 percent as many international flights. Most of the demand for international travel has been focused on warm beach destinations that have less-stringent travel restrictions.

“That is one of the strongest demand regions in the world right now,” Mr. Gupta said. “A lot of the leisure traffic has sort of shifted to those places and it’s actually seen a boom in bookings.”

Delta Air Lines issued a similar update last week, announcing more than 20 nonstop summer flights to mountain, beach and vacation destinations. Both airlines have said in recent weeks that they have made substantial progress toward reducing how much money they are losing every day.

“Institutions that focus on diversity and do it well are the successful institutions in our society,” said Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair.
Credit…Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said on Thursday that the central bank was trying to make its economic employee base more racially diverse and he was not satisfied with its progress toward that goal so far.

“It’s very frustrating, because we have had for many years a strong focus on recruiting a more diverse cadre of economists,” Mr. Powell said while speaking on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” after being asked about a New York Times story on the Fed’s lack of Black economists. “We’re not at all satisfied with the results.”

Only two of the 417 economists, or 0.5 percent, at the Fed’s board in Washington were Black, according to data the Fed provided to The Times earlier this year. By comparison, Black people make up 13 percent of the country’s population and 3 to 4 percent of the U.S. citizens and permanent residents who graduate as Ph.D. economists each year.

Across the entire Fed system — including the Board of Governors and the 12 regional banks — 1.3 percent of economists identified as Black. The Fed has been making efforts to hire more broadly, Mr. Powell said, including by working with historically Black colleges.

“It’s a very high priority,” Mr. Powell said of hiring more diversely. “Institutions that focus on diversity and do it well are the successful institutions in our society.”

The Fed chair was also asked about how he would rate the central bank’s sweeping efforts to rescue the economy as markets melted down at the start of the coronavirus outbreak last year. In addition to cutting its policy interest rate to near zero and rolling out an enormous bond-buying program, the Fed set up a series of emergency lending programs to funnel credit to the economy.

Rolled out over a frantic few weeks, the programs included ones that the Fed had never tried before to backstop corporate bond and private company loan markets.

“I liken it to Dunkirk,” Mr. Powell said, referring to the rapid evacuation of British and Allied forces from France in World War II. “Just get in the boats and go.”

Despite the speed of the decision-making, Mr. Powell said that he looked back on the results as positive.

“Overall, it was a very successful program,” he said. “It served its purpose in staving off what could have been far worse outcomes.”

Esther George, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, said she expected inflation to “firm,” given time.
Credit…Ann Saphir/Reuters

Esther George, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, says that although the outlook for growth has improved as vaccinations increase and the government rolls out relief packages, the path of the pandemic remains a major question hanging over the U.S. and global economies.

“We’re not out of this yet,” Ms. George said in an interview on Wednesday. “It’s hard to know what the dynamics will be on the other side.”

Ms. George said she was focused on labor force participation as a sign of the job market’s strength more than the headline unemployment rate, which has fallen to 6.2 percent from a 14.8 percent peak but misses many people who aren’t looking for new jobs after losing theirs during the pandemic. Participation, the share of people working or looking, remains a hefty two percentage points below its prepandemic levels.

“That might be the thing I really watch in the coming months,” she said.

Ms. George expects inflation to “firm,” but that the process is likely to take a while, she said, and it is “too soon to say” whether it will end with a more meaningful rise. Some prominent economists have begun to warn that prices, which have been low for decades, could rise rapidly as the government spends big and the Fed keeps rates at rock bottom to support the economic recovery.

“Wages are a very telling factor in a story about inflation,” Ms. George said.

Many economists look for faster growth in compensation as a signal that inflation is sustainable, not just driven by short-lived supply constraints or temporary quirks in the data.

Ms. George’s colleagues, including Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, have been clear that they expect prices to move higher this year but will not necessarily see that as an achievement of their inflation goal. The Fed redefined its target last year and now aims for 2 percent annual price gains, on average, over time.

Ms. George did not venture a guess of when the Fed will hit its three criteria for raising interest rates: full employment, 2 percent realized price gains and the expectation of higher inflation for some time. Some Fed officials expect to raise rates next year or in 2023, but most of them expect the initial increase to come even later.

Dan Gilbert, the chief executive of Quicken Loans, which has been based in Detroit since 2010.
Credit…Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Dan Gilbert, the Quicken Loans founder, has spent more than a decade putting billions into downtown Detroit. Now he’s broadening his scope.

The Gilbert Family Foundation and the Rocket Community Fund, the philanthropic arm of Quicken Loans’ Rocket Mortgage company, announced on Thursday a $500 million investment in Metro Detroit, to be spent over the next 10 years. The first $15 million will be put toward paying off property tax debt of low-income homeowners who qualified for Detroit’s Pay As You Stay initiative.

Quicken Loans has been based in Detroit since 2010, and Mr. Gilbert and his real estate firm, Bedrock, have spent billions buying and redeveloping properties there. Those efforts have been praised for revitalizing a downtown area of roughly seven square miles, but also criticized by some who contend they did not do enough to help those who live in the rest of the city.

“We feel like we’ve made Detroit into a tech boomtown,” said Mr. Gilbert. But he acknowledged that some may have felt left behind. “This can bridge that,” he said.

Mr. Gilbert added that his focus outside of Detroit’s city center stems from his work on President Barack Obama’s Blight Removal Task Force in 2014 as the city was emerging from bankruptcy. “Property taxes was the No. 1 issue that was causing the blight foreclosures,” he said.

Detroit’s housing crisis dates to “racial covenants” in the 1920s. In the mid-2000s, the city became a center of risky lending that defined the financial crisis, with subprime lending accounting for three-fourths of the mortgages in the city. (Quicken Loans settled a lawsuit with the Justice Department for its own lending practices during that time, but admitted no wrongdoing.)

The economic crisis that followed toppled a city already grappling with a dwindling population and shrinking revenue. Those who paid for the recovery were largely low-income housing owners — in many cases Black — whom the city was also accused of overtaxing. Poverty rates ascended and city services deteriorated as a result.

The investment announced on Thursday is an effort to address the lingering effects of the crisis. Twenty thousand families qualify for the tax-relief program, said Mr. Gilbert’s wife, Jennifer, who founded the Gilbert Family Foundation with her husband.

“By preserving that wealth, we also preserve opportunities for intergenerational wealth transfer,” she said. “The stability of the home allows for people to then focus on other economic opportunities that allow them to thrive.”

After the first $15 million of the initiative is spent paying back taxes of low-income homeowners, the remaining funds will be focused on, among other things, home repair and narrowing the digital divide.

The community will be vital for input, including those who qualify for the initial tax relief. “We can learn a lot about where we want to invest next and how best we can positively impact them and their lives,” Ms. Gilbert said.

A Nike store in Beijing on Thursday. Nike shares fell in premarket trading after it was criticized on Chinese social media over a statement it made about reports of forced labor in Xinjiang.
Credit…Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

U.S. stock futures dipped on Thursday even as the latest weekly data on state unemployment claims showed that they fell to their lowest level since the start of the pandemic.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to 657,000, a decrease of 100,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 684,000. Economists have been expecting the numbers to fall as the vaccine rollout continues and the effects of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package emerge.

European stocks were lower. The Stoxx Europe 600 index was down 0.8 percent and the FTSE 100 in Britain fell 1 percent.

“We are here to help our small businesses, and that is why I’m proud to more than triple the amount of funding they can access,” said Isabella Casillas Guzman, the Small Business Administration’s administrator.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Companies harmed by the coronavirus pandemic can soon borrow up to $500,000 through the Small Business Administration’s emergency lending program, raising a cap that has frustrated many applicants.

“The pandemic has lasted longer than expected,” Isabella Casillas Guzman, the agency’s administrator, said on Wednesday. “We are here to help our small businesses, and that is why I’m proud to more than triple the amount of funding they can access.”

The change to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program — known as EIDL and pronounced as idle — will take effect the week of April 6. Those who have already received loans but might now qualify for more money will be contacted and offered the opportunity to apply for an increase, the agency said.

The Small Business Administration has approved $200 billion in disaster loans to 3.8 million borrowers since the program began last year. Unlike the forgivable loans made through the larger and more prominent Paycheck Protection Program, the disaster loans must be paid back. But they carry a low interest rate and a long repayment term.

Normally, the decades-old disaster program makes loans of up to $2 million, and in the early days of the pandemic, the agency gave some applicants as much as $900,000. But it soon capped loans at $150,000 because it feared exhausting the available funding. That limit — which the agency did not tell borrowers about for months — angered applicants who needed more capital to keep their struggling ventures alive.

The agency has $270 billion left to lend through the pandemic relief program, James Rivera, the head of the agency’s Office of Disaster Assistance, told senators at a hearing on Wednesday.

Jane Fraser in 2019. “The blurring of lines between home and work and the relentlessness of the pandemic workday have taken a toll on our well-being,” she told Citigroup employees.
Credit…Erin Scott/Reuters

Complaints of “Zoom fatigue” have emerged across industries and classrooms in the past year, as people confined to working from home faced schedules packed with virtual meetings and often followed up by long video catch-ups with friends, reports Anna Schaverien of The New York Times.

But Citigroup, one of the world’s largest banks, is trying to start a new end-of-week tradition meant to combat that fatigue: Zoom-free Fridays.

The bank’s new chief executive, Jane Fraser, announced the plan in a memo sent to employees on Monday. Recognizing that workers have spent inordinate amounts of the past 12 months staring at video calls, Citi is encouraging its employees to take a step back from Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms for one day a week, she said.

“The blurring of lines between home and work and the relentlessness of the pandemic workday have taken a toll on our well-being,” Ms. Fraser wrote in the memo, which was seen by The New York Times.

No one at the company would have to turn their video on for any internal meetings on Fridays, she said. External meetings would not be affected.

The bank outlined other steps to restore some semblance of work-life balance. It recommended employees stop scheduling calls outside of traditional working hours and pledged that when employees can return to offices, a majority of its workers would be given the option to work from home up to two days a week.

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Tribune board backs Alden Global’s bid for newspaper chain over Maryland hotel magnate’s.

Tribune Publishing’s board recommended that shareholders approve a purchase offer from the hedge fund Alden Global Capital over a higher bid from a Maryland hotel executive, according to a securities filing Tuesday.

The filing comes a week after Stewart W. Bainum Jr., a hotel magnate, made an $18.50 per share offer for the whole company. Mr. Bainum initially had agreed with Alden to spin off three of Tribune’s titles — The Baltimore Sun and two smaller Maryland papers — at the price of $65 million. But negotiations between Alden and Mr. Banium stalled over details of operating agreements that would be in effect as the Maryland papers transitioned from one owner to another, prompting Mr. Banium to pursue a bid to buy all of Tribune.

Alden, Tribune’s largest shareholder with a 32 percent stake, agreed last month to buy the rest of the company at $17.25 per share and take it private in a deal that would value the company at $630 million. Alden would buy of all the company’s remaining papers, which include The Chicago Tribune and The Daily News.

Alden has been criticized for laying off journalists and shrinking local news coverage at the roughly 60 newspapers it already owns. The hedge fund says it is keeping local newspapers from going out of business.

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Extended Stay America to Be Acquired for $6 Billion: Live Updates

the hotel operator Extended Stay America for $6 billion, the latest deal premised on a post-pandemic rebound in travel.

The deal is a bet that the mid-tier hotel chain that provides guests with amenities like kitchens and laundry facilities will prosper as the U.S. economy recovers. The chain had a 74 percent occupancy rate last year, above the industry average, with many rooms filled by essential workers.

The company’s new owners hope those rooms will soon add more tourists and traveling professionals. Extended Stay has about 600 locations across the United States.

“Our occupancy levels across the brand now rival the pre-Covid levels,” Bruce Haase, Extended Stay’s chief executive, told analysts on the company’s earnings call last month. “And unlike the rest of the industry that was still reaching for occupancy, we can now turn much of our attention to driving higher rates.”

The company’s shares have more than doubled over the past year, and the acquisition offer is a 15 percent premium to its closing stock price at the end of last week.

Starwood and Blackstone both have experience investing in hospitality, and Blackstone has even owned Extended Stay before — twice. It acquired the company for $3.1 billion in 2004, before selling it three years later for $8 billion. It was also part of a consortium that bought the business out of bankruptcy in 2010, outbidding a group led by Starwood Capital. Extended Stay then went public in 2013.

Other private equity firms have similarly bet on a recovery of the hospitality industry. Apollo Global Management announced plans this month to join with Vici Properties to acquire the Venetian hotel and casino in a $6.25 billion deal that also includes the Las Vegas property’s large expo center.

A photo illustration of a Stripe logo on a smartphone.
Credit…Pavlo Gonchar/Sipa, via Associated Press

The payments company Stripe is worth $95 billion after a new round of funding, making it the most valuable start-up in the United States.

The San Francisco and Dublin-based company said on Sunday that it had raised $600 million in new funding from investors including Sequoia Capital, Fidelity Management and Ireland’s National Treasury Management Agency. The investment nearly triples Stripe’s last valuation of $35 billion.

The funding comes amid a surge in the adoption of digital tools and services in the pandemic as more people live, work and make purchases online. That has fueled a wave of investment into, and eye-popping valuations at, tech start-ups, as well as a frenzy of highly valued initial public offerings. Investors have valued Airbnb, the home rental start-up that recently went public, at $123 billion. Roblox, a kids gaming start-up, saw its valuation soar to $45 billion when it went public last week.

Founded in 2010, Stripe builds software that enables businesses to process payments online. As more people have turned to online shopping in the pandemic, Stripe’s offerings have been in demand. It is the largest among a class of fast-growing, highly valued financial technology companies.

Stripe is now processing hundreds of billions of dollars in payments each year across 42 countries, Dhivya Suryadevara, Stripe’s chief financial officer, said in an interview. “We are in a hyper-growth industry and within that, the company itself is experiencing hyper-growth,” she said. Ms. Suryadevara declined to share specifics on Stripe’s revenue or growth.

Credit…Richard Drew/Associated Press

Stripe has been considered a candidate to go public. Coinbase, another financial technology start-up, filed to go public later this month in a transaction that some expect could hit $100 billion. Robinhood, a stock trading app, has also seen its valuation surge in the pandemic.

Stripe said in an announcement that it planned to use the money to expand in Europe, including its office in Dublin. The company’s sibling founders, John Collison, 30, and Patrick, 32, were born in Ireland.

In a statement, John Collison, Stripe’s president, said the company would focus heavily on Europe this year. “The growth opportunity for the European digital economy is immense,” he said.

The company, which got its start working with start-ups and small businesses, will also invest in building more tools to help larger businesses handle payments. It counts 50 businesses that process more than $1 billion a year as customers.

Gene Sperling at the White House in 2013.
Credit…Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden has tapped Gene Sperling, a longtime top economic aide to Democratic presidents, to oversee spending from the $1.9 trillion relief package that the president signed into law last week and planned to promote across the country this week.

Mr. Sperling was director of the National Economic Council under President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama. In Mr. Obama’s administration, where he first served as a counselor in the Treasury Department, Mr. Sperling helped to coordinate a bailout of Detroit automakers and other parts of the administration’s response to the 2008 financial crisis.

He advised Mr. Biden’s campaign informally in 2020, helping to hone the campaign’s “Build Back Better” policy agenda. He will serve as the White House American Rescue Plan coordinator and as a senior adviser to Mr. Biden.

His appointment could be announced as soon as today. Mr. Biden is scheduled to give remarks on the implementation of his relief bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, on Monday afternoon. The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters last week that Mr. Biden intended to appoint someone to “run point” on implementing the plan — a role that Mr. Biden held for the Obama administration’s $800 billion stimulus plan in 2009.

Mr. Sperling did not respond to a message seeking comment. Friends have described him in recent months as eager to join the administration, and he had been mentioned as a possible appointee to head the Office of Management and Budget after Mr. Biden’s first nominee for that position, Neera Tanden, withdrew amid Senate opposition. His appointment was reported earlier by Politico.

Mr. Sperling’s challenge with the rescue plan will be different than the one Mr. Biden faced in 2009, because the relief bill that Mr. Biden just signed differs starkly from Mr. Obama’s signature stimulus plan. The Biden plan is more than twice as large as Mr. Obama’s, and it centers on a wide range of payments to low- and middle-income Americans, including $1,400-per-person direct checks that Treasury officials started sending electronically to Americans over the weekend. It includes money meant to hasten the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, including billions for vaccine deployment and coronavirus testing.

But the plans also have similarities, including more than $400 billion each in total spending for school districts and state and local governments.

An administration official said Mr. Sperling would work with White House officials and leaders of federal agencies to hasten the delivery of the money, including partnering with state and local governments on their shares of relief spending from the bill.

The Maryland hotel executive Stewart W. Bainum Jr. had been planning to create a nonprofit group that would buy The Baltimore Sun.
Credit…Andrew Gombert/European Pressphoto Agency

A deal that would reshape the American newspaper industry has run into complications just one month after an agreement was reached, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

As a result, the New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital may have to fend off a new suitor for Tribune Publishing, the chain that owns major metropolitan dailies across the country, including The Chicago Tribune, The Daily News and The Baltimore Sun, the people said.

On Feb. 16, Alden, the largest shareholder in Tribune Publishing, with a 32 percent stake, reached an agreement to buy the rest of the chain in a deal that valued the company at $630 million, reports The New York Times’s Marc Tracy. In the deal, Alden would take ownership of all the Tribune Publishing papers — and then spin off The Sun and two smaller Maryland papers, selling them for $65 million to a nonprofit organization controlled by the Maryland hotel magnate Stewart W. Bainum Jr.

In recent days, Mr. Bainum and Alden have found themselves at loggerheads over details of the operating agreements that would be in effect as the Maryland papers transitioned from one owner to another, the people said. In response, Mr. Bainum has taken a preliminary step toward making a bid for all of Tribune Publishing, the people said.

Mr. Bainum has asked a special committee of the Tribune Publishing board made up of three independent directors for permission to be released from a nondisclosure agreement prohibiting him from discussing the deal, so that he would be able to pursue partners for a new bid, the people said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Bainum said he had no comment. Through a spokesman, Tribune Publishing’s special committee declined to comment. An Alden spokesman had no comment.

The pharmaceutical industry is popular right now, which is perhaps unsurprising considering that the end of the pandemic depends on Covid-19 vaccines. Drug makers’ rapid response to the crisis has transformed public sentiment about the industry, moving it from one of the most reviled to one of the most respected, according to new data from the Harris Poll, reported first in the DealBook newsletter.

A year of living in existential and economic fear created unlikely heroes. For the past year or so, the Harris Poll has monitored public sentiment in weekly surveys of more than 114,000 people. At the height of the emergency, more than half of respondents were afraid of dying from the virus and a similar share were afraid of losing their jobs. “Only in the past month, with vaccines rising and hospitalizations and deaths declining, is fear abating,” the report noted.

Business generally got good grades during the pandemic. Many respondents cited companies as important to solving problems, where previously they were considered the cause of social woes. Two-thirds said that companies could do a better job coordinating the vaccine rollout than the government could.

Approval ratings rose for many industries from January last year to February this year. But the reputation of the pharma industry — stained by its role in the opioid crisis and criticized for high drug prices — benefited the most. In January 2020, only 32 percent of respondents viewed the industry positively; late last month, that had almost doubled, to 62 percent.

“The pharmaceutical industry’s ability to innovate and perform under intense pressure and in a time of crisis is the ultimate validation for any business,” said John Gerzema, the chief executive of the Harris Poll.

The Tesla car manufacturing plant in Fremont, Calif., remained open during the pandemic despite restrictions put in place by local officials.
Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

More than 400 workers at a Tesla plant in California tested positive for the coronavirus between May and December, according to public health data released by a transparency website.

The data provides the first glimpse into virus cases at Tesla, whose chief executive, Elon Musk, had played down the severity of the pandemic and reopened the plant, in Fremont, Calif., in May in defiance of guidelines issued by local public health officials.

Automakers across the country halted production and closed plants for two months last year from mid-March until mid-May. After resuming production, other automakers publicly announced when workers had tested positive for the virus and halted production to prevent further infection among employees and to disinfect work areas.

Tesla, however, has released little information about employee coronavirus cases.

The data was obtained by the website PlainSite, which works to make legal and governmental documents publicly accessible. It showed that 440 cases were reported at the Tesla plant, which employs some 10,000 people. The number of cases rose to 125 in December from fewer than 11 in May.

A year ago, after officials in California ordered manufacturing plants to close, Mr. Musk suggested on Twitter that the measure was unnecessary and that cases in the United States would be “close to zero.”

He also called virus restrictions “fascist,” threatened to move Tesla out of California, and then reopened the plant a week before health officials said it was safe to do so. More recently, Mr. Musk has questioned on Twitter the effectiveness of Covid vaccines.

Allison Herren Lee, the S.E.C.’s acting chair, will say that corporate disclosures on E.S.G. issues are a high priority.
Credit…Erin Scott/Reuters

Allison Herren Lee was named acting chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission in January, and she has been active since, especially when it comes to environmental, social and governance issues.

The agency has issued a flurry of notices that such disclosures will be priorities this year. On Monday, Ms. Lee, who was appointed as a commissioner by President Donald J. Trump in 2019, is speaking at the Center for American Progress, where she will call for input on additional E.S.G. transparency, according to prepared remarks reviewed by the DealBook newsletter.

The supposed distinction between what’s good and what’s profitable is diminishing, Ms. Lee will argue in the speech, saying that “acting in pursuit of the public interest and acting to maximize the bottom line” are complementary.

The S.E.C.’s job is to meet investor demand for data on a range of corporate activities. “That demand is not being met by the current voluntary framework,” she will say. “Human capital, human rights, climate change — these issues are fundamental to our markets, and investors want to and can help drive sustainable solutions on these issues.”

Ms. Lee will also argue that “political spending disclosure is inextricably linked to E.S.G. issues,” based on research showing that many companies have made climate pledges while donating to candidates with contradictory voting records. The same goes for racial justice initiatives, she will say.

Although Ms. Lee is only the acting chief, she’s laying the groundwork for more action, based on recent statements by Gary Gensler, President Biden’s choice to lead the S.E.C. In his confirmation hearing this month, Mr. Gensler said that investors increasingly wanted companies to disclose risks associated with climate change, diversity, political spending and other E.S.G. issues.

Not everyone at the S.E.C. is on board. Hester Peirce and Elad Roisman, fellow commissioners also appointed by Mr. Trump, recently protested the “steady flow” of climate and E.S.G. notices. They issued a public statement, asking, “Do these announcements represent a change from current commission practices or a continuation of the status quo with a new public relations twist?”

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Stocks on Wall Street were little changed on Monday after closing at a new high on Friday. Most European stock indexes were higher.

The yield on 10-year Treasury notes, a key driver of stock market movement lately, fell to 1.61 percent on Monday. It had climbed as high as 1.64 percent on Friday, a level not seen since February 2020, as investors considered whether a nearly $1.9 trillion stimulus package would be inflationary alongside an expected economic recovery as more Americans are vaccinated.

But on Sunday, Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, pushed back against these concerns. “Is there a risk of inflation? I think there’s a small risk and I think it’s manageable,” she said on ABC. She added that she expected prices to rise over the spring and summer but only temporarily because of how much they fell last year.

“We have had very well-anchored inflation expectations and a Federal Reserve that’s learned about how to manage inflation,” Ms. Yellen said.

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The S.E.C. Is Increasingly Making E.S.G. a Priority

Allison Herren Lee was named acting chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission in January, and since then she has been active, especially when it comes to environmental, social and governance, or E.S.G., issues. The agency has issued a flurry of notices that such disclosures will be priorities this year. Today, Ms. Lee, who was appointed as a commissioner by President Donald Trump in 2019, is speaking at the Center for American Progress, where she will call for input on additional E.S.G. transparency, according to prepared remarks seen by DealBook.

The supposed distinction between what’s good and what’s profitable is diminishing, Ms. Lee will argue in the speech, saying that “acting in pursuit of the public interest and acting to maximize the bottom line” are complementary. The S.E.C.’s job is to meet investor demand for data on a range of corporate activities, and Ms. Lee’s planned remarks suggest that greater transparency on E.S.G. issues won’t be optional for much longer. “That demand is not being met by the current voluntary framework,” she will say. “Human capital, human rights, climate change — these issues are fundamental to our markets, and investors want to and can help drive sustainable solutions on these issues.”

  • Ms. Lee will also argue that “political spending disclosure is inextricably linked to E.S.G. issues,” based on research showing that many companies have made climate pledges while donating to candidates with contradictory voting records. The same goes for racial justice initiatives, she will say.

This is not an interim priority. Ms. Lee is acting chief, but based on recent statements by Gary Gensler, President Biden’s choice to lead the S.E.C., she’s laying the groundwork for more action rather than throwing down the gauntlet. In his confirmation hearing this month, Mr. Gensler said that investors increasingly wanted companies to disclose risks associated with climate change, diversity, political spending and other E.S.G. issues.

Not everyone at the S.E.C. is on board. Hester Peirce and Elad Roisman, fellow commissioners also appointed by Mr. Trump, recently protested the “steady flow” of climate and E.S.G. notices. They issued a public statement, asking, “Do these announcements represent a change from current commission practices or a continuation of the status quo with a new public relations twist?”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested, to varying degrees, that the governor of New York consider resigning over allegations of sexual harassment. He has rejected those calls and is considering running for a fourth term.

The U.S. is considering new ways to protect itself against cyberattacks. Efforts by China and Russia to breach government and corporate computer networks — and the failure of American intelligence to detect them — have spurred discussions about ways to organize U.S. cyberdefenses, including more partnerships with private companies.

Credit Suisse is accused of continuing to help Americans evade taxes. The Swiss bank aided clients in hiding assets, seven years after it promised U.S. federal prosecutors that it would stop doing so, according to a whistle-blower report. That puts the firm at risk of a fresh investigation and more financial penalties. The bank said it was cooperating with the authorities.

A veteran Democratic official is poised to join the Biden administration. Gene Sperling, an economic wonk who served in the Clinton and Obama administrations, is likely to oversee the implementation of the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, Politico reports.

Stripe is now Silicon Valley’s most valuable start-up. The payments processor has raised funding from investors like Sequoia and Fidelity at a $95 billion valuation. Stripe plans to use the money to expand in Europe, including in its founders’ home country, Ireland.

chief counsel of the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase before joining the O.C.C. But his enthusiasm isn’t based on Bitcoin’s success as much as on his personal struggles, he told DealBook.

Mr. Brooks borrowed his way out of an ailing town. He grew up in Pueblo, Colo., a steel center that lost its purpose in the 1980s. His father took his own life when Mr. Brooks was 14, and he and his mother had little. In high school, he waited tables and took out loans for school, for a car and eventually for a home. Now, he’s betting that blockchain can help the underbanked do the same more easily.

“Unlocking credit availability allows people to move up the ladder,” Mr. Brooks said. Nearly 50 million Americans don’t have credit scores, but many are creditworthy. Traditional rating systems aren’t equipped for nuanced assessments that might include things like rent, Netflix bills or income from gig work. For many, the inability to borrow limits opportunities to achieve financial security.

Finding solutions to financial inclusion that are immune to politics is key, noted Mr. Brooks, a Trump administration appointee. Credit, he argues, lets people bet on themselves regardless of which party is making policy, and the current system excludes many worthy borrowers. “Let’s let more people climb ladders,” Mr. Brooks said.


— Howard Lindzon, an investor, entrepreneur and market commentator, speaking to The Times’s Erin Griffith on the booms (or bubbles) in everything from trading cards to Bitcoin, SPACs and so-called meme stocks.


new data from the Harris Poll, revealed exclusively in DealBook.

A year of living in fear created unlikely heroes. For the past year or so, the Harris Poll has monitored public sentiment in weekly surveys of more than 114,000 people. At the height of the emergency, more than half of respondents were afraid of dying from the virus and a similar share were afraid of losing their jobs. “Only in the past month, with vaccines rising and hospitalizations and deaths declining, is fear abating,” the report noted.

The Times’s Opinion podcast “Sway,” the economist Mariana Mazzucato told Kara Swisher that the traditional narrative has holes in it.

“Do you have any idea where the innovation in places like Silicon Valley came from?” asked Ms. Mazzucato, the founder of University College London’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. She ticked off technologies like the internet and GPS: “We wouldn’t have any smart product without all the smart technology, which was government-financed.”

Listen to the conversation here.

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New Suitor May Enter Fray for Tribune Publishing

A deal that would reshape the American newspaper industry has run into complications just one month after an agreement was reached, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. As a result, the New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital may have to fend off a new suitor for Tribune Publishing, the chain that owns major metropolitan dailies across the country, including The Chicago Tribune, The Daily News and The Baltimore Sun, the people said.

On Feb. 16, Alden, the largest shareholder in Tribune Publishing, with a 32 percent stake, reached an agreement to buy the rest of the chain in a deal that valued the company at $630 million. In the deal, Alden would take ownership of all the Tribune Publishing papers — and then spin off The Sun and two smaller Maryland papers at a price of $65 million to a nonprofit organization controlled by the Maryland hotel magnate Stewart W. Bainum Jr.

In recent days, Mr. Bainum and Alden have found themselves at loggerheads over details of the operating agreements that would be in effect as the Maryland papers transitioned from one owner to another, the people said. In response, Mr. Bainum has taken a preliminary step toward making a bid for all of Tribune Publishing, the people said.

Mr. Bainum has asked the Tribune Publishing special committee, a group made up of three independent board members, for permission to be released from a nondisclosure agreement prohibiting him from discussing the deal, so that he would be able to pursue partners for a new bid, the people said.

sale of a majority-owned subsidiary for $160 million.

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