Sale of Tribune Newspaper Chain to Hedge Fund Faces One Last Challenge

The hedge fund that wants to buy Tribune Publishing, the owner of some of the nation’s major metropolitan newspapers, has one final hurdle to cross.

Shareholders of the newspaper company, whose titles include The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and The New York Daily News, will vote on Friday on whether to approve the company’s sale to Alden Global Capital, an investor with a reputation for slashing costs and cutting jobs at the approximately 200 newspapers it already owns.

Alden’s effort to buy Tribune has faced resistance: Journalists at Tribune’s papers protested the sale and publicly pleaded for another buyer to step in. A Maryland hotel executive who had planned to purchase the The Baltimore Sun offered a glimmer of hope when he emerged with a last-minute offer for the entire company. He was backed for a brief time by a Swiss billionaire.

But the rival bid never fully came together, so the choice facing Tribune’s shareholders is to approve or reject Alden’s offer. Tribune’s board has recommended that they vote for the sale.

Chicago Tribune Guild president, begged Dr. Soon-Shiong to vote “No” on Friday.

“As Tribune Publishing’s second-largest shareholder, you can single-handedly keep Alden from sealing the deal,” Mr. Pratt wrote. “We’re not asking you to buy the company, though that would be great. But we are asking you to use your power to stop Alden from consolidating its own.”

Alden began buying up news outlets more than a decade ago and owns MediaNews Group, the second-largest newspaper group in the country, with titles including The Denver Post and The Boston Herald. While buying a newspaper may sound like a questionable investment in an era of shrinking print circulation and advertising, Alden has found a way to eke out a profit by laying off workers, cutting costs and selling off real estate.

“Alden’s playbook is pretty straightforward: Buy low, cut deeper,” said Jim Friedlich, the chief executive of The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, a journalism nonprofit that owns The Philadelphia Inquirer. “There’s little reason to believe that Alden will approach full ownership of Tribune any differently than they have their other news properties.”

Stewart W. Bainum Jr., the hotel magnate from Baltimore who made a last-ditch effort to rival Alden’s bid.

“This is the strategic logic of the acquisition, and one would hope — but not expect — that the savings from these synergies will be reinvested in local journalism and digital transformation,” he said.

Tribune, Alden Global Capital and Mr. Bainum declined to comment ahead of the vote.

Tribune agreed in February to sell to Alden, which had pursued ownership for years, in a deal that valued Tribune at roughly $630 million.

While a sale to Alden now seems inevitable, the twists and turns of recent weeks had seemed to favor Tribune’s reporters.

Mr. Bainum emerged as a potential savior in February, when he announced that he would establish a nonprofit to buy The Baltimore Sun and other Maryland newspapers from Alden once its purchase of Tribune went through. But his deal with Alden soon ran aground as negotiations stalled over the operating agreements that would be in effect as the papers were transferred.

So Mr. Bainum made a bid for the whole company on March 16, outmatching Alden with an offer that valued the company at about $680 million. He was then joined by Hansjörg Wyss, a Swiss billionaire who lives in Wyoming and had expressed an interest in owning The Chicago Tribune. Mr. Bainum would have put up $100 million, with Mr. Wyss financing the rest.

Tribune agreed to consider the bid from the pair, who formed a company called Newslight, saying on April 5 that it would enter negotiations because it had determined that the deal could lead to a “superior proposal.” Part of the discussions included access to Tribune’s finances.

exiting the bid after his associates reviewed the books. Part of the reason for his decision, according to people with knowledge of the matter, was the realization that his plans to transform the Chicago newspaper into a competitive national daily would be near impossible to pull off.

Mr. Bainum notified Tribune on April 30 that he would increase the amount of money that he would personally put toward the financing from $100 million to $300 million, as he hunted for like-minded investors to replace Mr. Wyss. In addition to needing to fund the balance of his bid, $380 million, Mr. Bainum’s offer was contingent on finding someone to take on responsibility for The Chicago Tribune, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

His effort seems to have fallen short.

View Source

How the Golden Globes Went From Laughingstock to Power Player

The H.F.P.A. took advantage of its new prominence, too, polishing its reputation by hiring the savvy public relations firm Sunshine Sachs a decade ago. It has also increased its philanthropic contributions substantially. On its website it says it has given away $45 million over the past 28 years, with the money going to entertainment-related nonprofit organizations, college scholarships and the restoration of classic films.

The oddball accolades like Ms. Zadora’s in 1982 that used to be commonplace have been kept to a minimum. The last truly bizarre moment came in 2010, when voters nominated “The Tourist” for best comedy or musical. (It was neither. But it brought the movie’s stars, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, to the show.) And the members also started poking fun at themselves. Ricky Gervais, a frequent host of the Globes, said during the 2016 show that the awards were “a bit of metal that some nice old, confused journalists wanted to give you in person so they could meet you and have a selfie with you.”

Yet everyone got a cut. Publicists got paid to steer clients down the preshow red carpet. Award strategists began charging studios for advice about how to manipulate the Globes voters. The Los Angeles Times reported in February that an H.F.P.A. consultant can receive a $45,000 fee for his or her work, a $20,000 bonus if the film earns a best picture nomination and $30,000 if the film wins. Fees flowed to an army of stylists, limo drivers, spray tanners, banquet servers and red carpet-layers, as well as the trade magazines and newspapers that benefited from the additional advertising revenue.

Mainstream news outlets, including The New York Times, began to cover the Globes ceremony with greater intensity, generating enormous online interest and lending an aura of legitimacy to the proceedings, even if the awards still did not rival the Oscars as markers of artistic achievement.

“Fundamentally, all the people who were in a position to be critical enough that it would have an effect were part of the system: the trade press, the major newspapers, the actors and directors,” Mr. Galloway said. “Anybody who could stand up with legitimacy and say, ‘I don’t believe in this, I’m not doing it,’ had an incentive to keep going until finally, the potential damage to their own image made them turn the other way.”

View Source

Washington Post Picks Sally Buzbee as Top Editor

The Post’s search for an executive editor, led by Mr. Ryan, started at the end of January, when Mr. Baron gave a month’s notice, saying, “At age 66, I feel ready to move on.” Mr. Bezos met with final candidates in recent days, and Ms. Buzbee said she had an interview with him in Washington before signing on for the job.

“Every indication I’ve gotten, everything I’ve seen, is that he believes in the importance of an independent newsroom,” Ms. Buzbee said of Mr. Bezos in an interview on Tuesday.

She said it was “a huge honor” to be the first woman to lead The Post’s newsroom.

“Every day when I work, I am conscious of the women who came before me in this profession that we love so much and who broke down so many barriers,” Ms. Buzbee said. “And I am grateful to them pretty much every day of my life, because I know that it took work and guts, and I really do feel that they paved the way for things that are happening now.”

Ms. Buzbee was also considered this year for the top newsroom job at The Los Angeles Times, which went this month to ESPN’s Kevin Merida, a former managing editor of The Post.

She was born in Walla Walla, Wash., and grew up in the Bay Area and the suburbs of Dallas and Kansas City. She graduated from high school in Olathe, Kan., before getting a journalism degree at the University of Kansas and an M.B.A. from Georgetown University.

Her husband, John Buzbee, a Foreign Service officer and Middle East specialist, died in 2016. Her father-in-law, Richard Buzbee, who died in 2018, was the publisher and editor of The Hutchinson News and Olathe Daily News in Kansas.

Ms. Buzbee, who has been working out of New York, will move to Washington when she takes the Post job. The A.P. said in a statement that it would start a search for her successor immediately. The A.P.’s president and chief executive, Gary Pruitt, said in a statement that Ms. Buzbee had been “an exceptional leader.”

View Source

Biden’s Modest Tax Plan

Business lobbyists and conservative think tanks are not big fans of President Biden’s proposed tax increases on the wealthy.

The Tax Foundation has said that Biden wants to raise the capital gains tax to “highs not seen since the 1920s.” Suzanne Clark of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called the same plan “outrageous.” Jay Timmons of the National Association of Manufacturers called the proposed increase in the corporate tax rate “archaic.” And Brendan Bechtel, the chief executive of the construction company that bears his family name, said that “it doesn’t feel fair.”

All of this rhetoric has obscured a basic fact about Biden’s tax plan: It would not actually raise tax rates on the rich to high levels, historically speaking.

If all of Biden’s proposed tax increases passed — on the corporate tax, as well as on investment taxes and income taxes for top earners — the total federal tax rate on the wealthy would remain significantly lower than it was in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. It would also remain somewhat lower than during the mid-1990s, based on an analysis that Gabriel Zucman of the University of California, Berkeley, did for The Morning.

just how far taxes on the wealthy have fallen over the past 70 years. In the decades just after World War II, many corporations paid about half of their profits in federal taxes. (Shareholders, who are disproportionately affluent, effectively pay those taxes). Today, corporate taxes are only about one-fourth as large, as a share of G.D.P., as they were in the 1950s and ’60s.

The declines are not all ancient history, either. For most of the past quarter-century, taxes on the affluent have continued falling, including the rates on corporate profits, personal income, stock dividends, stock holdings and inheritances. Barack Obama reversed some of the declines, but only some. “The net effect over the past 25 years of federal income tax policy has been to reduce the overall revenue collected from top earners,” Owen Zidar, a Princeton University economist, told me.

Whether you like Biden’s plan or dislike it, it is not radical. For that reason, it is highly unlikely to have the harmful effects on economic growth that its critics are claiming. Remember: In the 1990s, the last time tax rates were as high as the ones Biden has proposed, the economy boomed. It also grew rapidly after World War II, when tax rates were higher yet.

History suggests that tax rates on the wealthy are not the main determinant of economic growth (and, if anything, higher taxes on the rich can sometimes lift growth). The main effect of Biden’s tax plan probably won’t be on the level of G.D.P. It will instead be on the relative tax burden that wealthy people pay. When they criticize the plan as unfair, archaic and outrageous, they are really saying that they enjoy paying low tax rates.

admit up to 62,500 refugees in the next six months, reversing his decision to keep a lower limit set by Donald Trump.

  • The E.P.A. plans to limit a class of climate-warming chemicals used in air-conditioning and refrigeration.

  • Richard Cordray, an ally of Senator Elizabeth Warren, will oversee federal student aid, putting him at the center of Democratic disagreements over forgiving debt.

  • Representative Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, accused Trump of “poisoning our democratic system” by making false claims of voter fraud.

  • The country’s increasing diversity isn’t doing as much to help Democrats as liberals hope, Nate Cohn explains.

  • When the World Trade Organization meets this week, should it waive Covid vaccine patents to increase access for poorer countries?

    from Stromboli.

    A Times classic: Can you guess whether these neighborhoods voted for Biden or for Trump?

    Lives Lived: He was born Joseph Jacques Ahearn, but his mother thought Jacques d’Amboise would be better suited to the ballet world. After he became a dancer, d’Amboise found stardom in New York and Hollywood. He died at 86.

    the critic Jesse Green writes in The Times.

    The album, “All the Girls,” also featuring the soprano Sally Wilfert, came out two days after Luker’s death in December. Green calls it beautiful and funny. (It includes this song, which is worth watching.)

    Tonight, Luker’s colleagues and friends will tell stories and sing songs from her career at a fund-raising concert you can stream. — Claire Moses, Morning writer

    View Source

    L.A. Times Names Kevin Merida Executive Editor

    When Mr. Merida started at The Undefeated, it was a stalled digital project with an unhappy staff — a would-be publication that, even after a nearly two-year development period, existed only as a web page with links to 19 articles.

    He got The Undefeated up and running, quickly establishing its editorial identity. The site’s relevance grew as prominent Black athletes embraced activism amid the rise of the social justice movement after the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.

    In his first editor’s letter at The Undefeated, Mr. Merida held up the example of his father, Jesse Merida, as someone who refused to be defeated by pervasive racism and the limited opportunities that went with it.

    His father, he wrote, had gotten a degree in geology at what is now Wichita State University and did not listen to those who advised him to go into teaching rather than trying for a career in the more closed-off world of science. He ended up “earning his living as a janitor at one point while waiting for his opportunity,” Mr. Merida wrote, and was finally hired as a technician with the U.S. Geological Survey, a job that led to a long career, among mostly white researchers, with the Smithsonian Institution.

    At the Disney-owned ESPN, Mr. Merida became a close adviser to Jimmy Pitaro, the network’s chairman, and served as the chair of ESPN’s editorial board. He also played integral roles in its newsroom, helping oversee its investigative coverage and the television shows “E:60” and “Outside the Lines,” while also managing its standards team.

    Mr. Merida, who was born in Wichita, Kan., grew up in the Washington area, where he still lives. He is married to the author Donna Britt, who has worked as a reporter and columnist at The Washington Post, USA Today and The Detroit Free Press.

    He studied journalism at Boston University and started his career as a reporter for The Milwaukee Journal. After a decade at The Dallas Morning News, he joined The Post in 1993 as a congressional reporter.

    View Source

    L.A. Schools Superintendent Austin Beutner Stepping Down

    Austin Beutner, who took the helm of the Los Angeles public school system, the second-largest in the nation, during a leadership crisis and shepherded it through the coronavirus pandemic, says he will leave his post as superintendent at the end of June.

    “This job is extraordinarily demanding, even in ordinary times,” Mr. Beutner, 61, said in an interview, adding, “It’s been a long three years.”

    Los Angeles school trustees had asked him to extend the three-year contract he signed in 2018. But Mr. Beutner, a former financier who has served as a publisher of The Los Angeles Times and a deputy mayor, wrote in a letter to the board on Wednesday that he preferred to move on.

    Across the country, pandemic-fatigued civic leaders are reassessing their service.

    Nearly one-fifth of the mayors in Massachusetts have said they will not run for re-election. In San Francisco, where political controversies over school names consumed the school board while families clamored for a return to face-to-face classes, the superintendent decided to stay on only after the board agreed in writing not to adopt any new mandates unrelated to reopening, for the time being.

    settled after six days. Then in 2020 came the pandemic, emptying classrooms of the roughly 650,000 students the district serves, most of them from low-income households.

    Operating under emergency powers and leveraging his contacts in the philanthropic and private sectors, Mr. Beutner was both praised and criticized for his handling of the pandemic.

    The district set up an extraordinary social-service net, providing more than 123 million meals to needy children and adults, more than 30 million masks and other items, as well as mass Covid-19 testing and vaccination.

    But California was among the last states to resume in-person instruction, in part because Mr. Beutner had agreed with the district’s teachers to make reopening conditional on access to vaccination.

    View Source

    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.”

    View Source

    The State of Summer Vacation

    With Covid vaccinations underway, many people are wondering about travel.

    The C.D.C. has recommended that Americans, even those who have been fully vaccinated, not travel yet. Case numbers have been rising in the U.S., and variants are spreading. But the reality is that many people who have received the vaccine are booking flights and trips again.

    Though this summer likely won’t see travel at prepandemic levels, and many places remain closed, “bookings for almost everything are up,” Tariro Mzezewa, a Times reporter who covers travel, told me.

    “Travel will go beyond the road trips of last summer,” she says. “Vaccinated people will be more comfortable being around other people.”

    Expect to show some sort of proof — either of a negative test or of vaccination — when traveling. “You should be planning on showing your negative test or staying home if you don’t have one,” Tariro says.

    Digital Green Certificate, a so-called vaccine passport that countries can use to verify a person’s health status and allow free travel across the bloc.

    The concept of a vaccine passport isn’t new: To travel to certain countries, for example, you already need inoculations against yellow fever and other diseases.

    The travel industry and tech companies have been working on ways to streamline digital credentials for years, and during the pandemic some have started to repurpose that technology to show proof of vaccination. “It isn’t far off in the future,” Tariro says.

    Countries are approaching travel differently. The Biden administration has said that it will leave the development of a vaccine passport in the U.S. to the private sector. At least 17 initiatives are underway, The Washington Post reported.

    “Some think a coordinated, nationwide vaccine passport system could help us get back to a semblance of normal life and speed up economic recovery,” Rebecca Heilweil wrote in Recode. “But this seems unlikely.”

    The economy has reopened with help from a “Green Pass,” an entry ticket to society.

    The pass isn’t being widely used for international travel — Israel is still closed to foreign visitors out of fear of variants — but it offers access to restaurants, concerts and more. Newspapers and commercials in Israel are already advertising summer getaways for the fully vaccinated in countries that have agreed to take them, including Greece, Cyprus and Georgia, according to Isabel Kershner, a Times correspondent in Jerusalem.

    If you’re looking for more answers about vaccine passports, read Tariro’s article. And here’s what you need to know about the simple white cards you get after receiving a vaccine.

    paid no federal taxes last year on billions of dollars in profits, a study found.

    Modern Love: Was it fear of commitment, or was it something more complicated?

    Lives Lived: Bibian Mentel was a six-time Dutch snowboarding champion when she lost a leg to cancer. She was soon back on the slopes, competing against able-bodied snowboarders, and she won a gold medal seven months after her surgery. Mentel has died at 48.

    which began yesterday, is that it’s somewhat normal. After the pandemic forced major changes last year, including a 60-game schedule, the league is returning to a standard 162 games and fans are back in the stands.

    Here are three things to watch for this year.

    Lots of home runs. For the past five years, home runs have been flying into the stands in record numbers, and pitchers aren’t happy. To address it, the league has introduced a baseball that is less springy. Still, during spring training, batters hit it out of the park at the highest rate yet, according to The Ringer.

    The best get better. The Los Angeles Dodgers have been to three of the last four World Series, and won it last year. And they seem to keep getting stronger: Over the winter they added pitcher Trevor Bauer, who won the National League Cy Young Award last year. Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times has high expectations: “This season they’re going to be the best team in baseball history.”

    Pandemic disruptions. The league has already postponed a game because of Covid — the opening day matchup between the Mets and the Nationals. As the season goes on, expect the virus to complicate things: Players could miss days, and teams may have to reschedule games.

    For more: Tyler Kepner, a Times baseball writer, explains where all 30 teams stand. — Tom Wright-Piersanti

    View Source

    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.”

    View Source