Sun-Times Parent Buying the Tribune? You Must Be Joking!

Sun-Times Parent Buying the Tribune? You Must Be Joking!

No, it’s not an April Fool’s joke- the idea of one print voice for 3 million people.

The Chicago Sun-Times parent company Wrapports LLC is supposedly interested in purchasing the Tribune Company. This, despite the fact that they have not turned a profit in the 15 months Michael Ferro has been in charge. So this purchase, really an expansion, could happen despite the realities the Sun-Times publications are facing: offices closing, shrinking revenues, decreasing circulation, an unresolved union contract and lay-offs.

Sun-Times Editor-in-Chief Jim Kirk's previous job was at Crain’s. Maybe he used his connections there to plant these stories in Crain’s? In order to boost morale for his ailing paper?

When the suburban offices announced that they were closing, about a week before Christmas, Kirk said then there would be no more layoffs. Then in January, a member of upper level management within the organization went to one of the suburban offices and said the closing of the buildings (in Glenview, Merrillville, Joliet, Tinley Park, Waukegan and Aurora) had nothing to do with potential future layoffs; a source told me.

Therefore, the news of March 15th came as quite a surprise. The Ides of March were cutthroat for numerous Sun-Times staffers including Southtown sports editor Phil Arvia. A veteran of 25 years, he covered the Chicago White Sox and holds a MLB Hall of Fame vote. For the full list of lay-offs go here.

After the March 15th cuts were made, my source told me that Kirk had a meeting in the Sun-Times news room and said:

1.) the company isn’t making money

2.) no further detail about the lay-offs.

One of the first things they teach you in business school is that lay-offs usually come after mergers and acquisitions, not before. Of course, there are exceptions. How can the Sun-Times be both reducing and expanding operations at the same time? There's something here that doesn't quite add up. The Sun-Times has eliminated its food section and will outsource its business section. Since the closing of the suburban offices, reporters are working in the field/at home with editors and production moved into the downtown building on 350 N. Orleans.

Think about what a potential media hellscape we’d have here: Just one daily paper in the nation’s 3rd largest market. The old Soviet Union wished they had propaganda like that. Actually, the two papers are already much more intertwined and co-dependent than you might think.

sun-times-tribune-merger

Robert Feder of Time Out Chicago recently pointed out that the parent companies of both papers are at issue over unresolved debt- $70 million-a-year contracts for the Tribune Co. to print and distribute the Sun-Times and its suburban daily newspapers.

He writes:

Just as Tribune Co. was emerging from bankruptcy at the end of December, Sun-Times owner Wrapports LLC paid only a fraction of what it owed, according to sources at both companies. Since then, nothing. Some see it as a sign of financial trouble at Wrapports, where advertising revenues have fallen far short of projections. Others see it as a strategic move to force a renegotiation of the agreement or as a precursor to a bid for the Tribune. Fearing that Tribune Co. could simply pull the plug, Wrapports has begun searching for alternate printing facilities. (Just a bluff? Who knows?) On the other hand, Wrapports chairman Michael Ferro appears to be gambling that the Tribune won’t put its No. 1 client out of business while it’s trying to attract a potential buyer. In the end, it all may wind up in court — if not on the front pages of both papers.

 

That’s right, the bitter arch-rivals actually have a deep connection to one another. Maybe if the Sun-Times parent bought the Tribune they would still continue publishing both newspapers? Only the business side merged, not content? Still, media consolidation and conglomeration is never good for maintaining a healthy, functioning democracy.

I can think of one particular Trib buyer who would be MUCH WORSE than Wrapports though.

News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, who once owned the Chicago Sun-Times, is reportedly interested. He is most infamous for owning the Fox News Channel, with its “fair and balanced” journalism; and for holding extremely right-wing political views. I don't think that would go over so well in a Democratic stronghold like Chicago.

And a notorious neoconservative media baron returning to a blue state just would not "play in Peoria," as the political maxim goes. Literally. A former NBC news anchor in Peoria pretty much called Murdoch a real life version of a James Bond supervillain.

Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net, an author and regular contributor to MSN, Fox Sports , Chicago Now, Walter Football.com and Yardbarker. Banks has appeared on Comcast SportsNet and the History Channel, as well as Clear Channel, ESPN and CBS radio all over the world. President Barack Obama follows him on Twitter (@PaulMBanks)

He has a Fulbright fellowship in media studies and an MBA (Loyola '06)

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