June 6, 2017

While President Trump feuds with his Attorney General over a travel ban and the Russia investigation, he’s likely unaware of a less fractious Justice Department matter: approving a sale of the Chicago Sun-Times.

The latest deadline for bids to buy the financially pressed tabloid passed Monday. There are at least two apparent new bids in addition to a previous one from its longtime rival Chicago Tribune, according to a source familiar with the process.

One of them involves Edwin Eisendrath, a former Chicago who comes from a wealthy family, and several unions. The specifics of that offer is publicly unknown. It was confirmed that a much rumored bid from a billionaire Chicago real estate family, the Bluhms, did not come to pass.

The latest bids result from initial Justice Department wariness over the move by Tronc, the parent of The Chicago Tribune, to purchase the Sun-Times.

Such a deal would have obvious logic amid the decline of metro dailies nationwide, the exodus of print advertising to the likes o Facebook and Google, and the challenge for local papers of monetizing digital content in any substantial way amid their unceasing staffing cutbacks.

The Tribune and Sun-Times already have a joint printing and distribution deal. A merger would theoretically maintain them as separate entities while finding rather predictable backroom efficiencies in sales and other areas.

But any deal needs Justice Department approval and the department headed by apparently embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions had apparent qualms about the initial announcement from the two papers. It was not convinced that potential interest in buying the paper had been fully assessed.

It thus forced the Sun-Times to run an ad making clear it was on the block and giving any potential suitors until June 1 to declare interest. That was then extended to Monday.

However this plays out, the central figure remains Michael Ferro, who was previously the primary owner of the Sun-Times via his Wrapports Holdings Inc.

Ferro then executed a surprise investor coup at what was then Tribune Publishing, which he later named Tronc, after entering the company as a friendly investor. In a very short period, he managed to boot CEO Jack Griffin, a former longtime magazine executive, who had courted Ferro to begin with.

As a result, Ferro had to give up Wrapports Holdings. After a successful career in tech, it was the very notion of a future combination of the Chicago papers that had led to his entry into the newspaper business and his involvement with the Sun-Times.

But a combination would still raise the same challenging questions that beset the industry: how to monetize digital content, perhaps create new lines of business, and stay alive, even prosper.

And it’s unclear if Ferro is willing to make the sort of substantial editorial and business side investments that might be needed after a decade of downsizing.

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New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
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