Hedge fund Alden Global Capital will acquire the rest of what it does not already own of Tribune Publishing (TPCO), owner of the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News and other local newspapers, in a deal valued at $630 million.
The Chicago Tribune was first to report the news of the merger agreement.
The acquisition has long been expected and feared internally after the hedge fund became the company’s largest shareholder in 2019 with about 32% ownership. Hundreds of Tribune employees signed a letter to protest the ownership, citing the hedge fund’s “well-documented history of extracting short-term profits from already-lean operations by cutting newsroom jobs and denying fair wages and benefits.” Shortly after Alden took control, Tribune offered buyouts to employees for the second time in two years.
Some employees of Tribune-owned newsrooms looked for alternative options to hedge-fund ownership. The Hartford Courant staffers sought non-profit ownership through the “Save Our Courant” campaign. So did the union of The Baltimore Sun, with the “Save Our Sun” campaign.
In Tuesday’s news release, Alden announced it agreed to sell the Baltimore Sun Media Group to Sunlight for All Institute, a nonprofit led by Stewart Bainum Jr., chairman of hotel chain Choice Hotels International. The media group includes The Baltimore Sun, the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, The Carroll County Times and other local outlets.
Alden and Tribune said in a joint release Tuesday that Tribune’s board of directors approved the agreement after a special committee evaluated its options — including Alden’s proposal. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of this year and requires approval of two-thirds of the shareholders not affiliated with Alden.
The announcement has already attracted criticism from some of Tribune’s own employees.
“Absolutely terrible news,” tweeted Gregory Pratt, a city hall reporter at The Tribune.
The Baltimore Sun’s Pamela Wood said Alden’s acquisition is “truly awful.”
Other media observers, like Margaret Sullivan, celebrated the sale of Baltimore Sun to a nonprofit, calling it the “one bright spot in the Alden/Tribune development.”
Tribune Publishing also owns Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel, Virginia’s Daily Press and The Virginian-Pilot, and The Morning Call of Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. The company shuttered several newsrooms during the pandemic, including The Daily News, The Morning Call and The Orlando Sentinel.
“Over the past year, the Company has taken a number of actions to adapt to an ever-changing business and industry environment, including the impact of COVID-19,” Philip Franklin, chairman of the board and a member of the special committee, said in a statement. “These actions included strengthening the Company’s financial position, driving digital growth and investing in high-quality content to better serve customers, employees and communities. This positioning enabled the special committee to negotiate a premium, all-cash price, which the committee concluded was superior to the available alternatives.”
Tribune spokesperson Max Reinsdorf declined to comment to CNN Business beyond the release.