April 30, 2020

Two local foundations, a former county executive and a NewsGuild chapter are trying to put together a bid to buy The Baltimore Sun out from Tribune Publishing.

The effort has some urgency. Alden Global Capital owns a third of Tribune Publishing stock and appears to be exerting pressure to slash costs. Alden’s “standstill” agreement not to buy more Tribune shares expires in June.

Locals made a run at buying The Sun a decade ago — but never got any indication that Tribune, then controlled by real estate czar Sam Zell, would even entertain an offer.

Zell also rebuffed potential local suitors for the Los Angeles Times. But his successor regime at Tribune, led by tech entrepreneur Michael Ferro, did sell the Times to Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong for $500 million in June 2018.

Soon-Shiong conceded in later interviews that he had probably overpaid. With Alden in the wings, Tribune would be looking for a premium offer if it were willing to sell at all.

RELATED: Tribune Publishing is the latest journalism organization to announce cuts — 2% to 10% salary reductions

A player in both the earlier and present effort is the Abell Foundation, formed by the family that owned the Sun, dating back to 1837. The family sold the Sun to the Times Mirror Company in 1986, which in turn was sold to Tribune Publishing in 2000.

Two things could be different this time around. The group is modeling the structure of The Salt Lake Tribune, which converted to nonprofit status last fall after lawyers for its owners, the Huntsman family, won a favorable ruling from the Internal Revenue Service, clearing the way.

Also Abell is being joined by a second Baltimore nonprofit, the Goldseker Foundation.

Matt Gallagher, president of Goldseker, told me in a brief phone interview, “Tribune has been approached and has responded. I can’t say more, but this is a strong, well-resourced local effort.”

Ted Venetoulis, who was the elected county executive of Baltimore County from 1974 to 1978, worked with Abell trying to buy The Sun in the late 2000s.

And the NewsGuild has periodically tried to put together groups that would buy a paper in a local market but, to date, without success.

The Baltimore effort is similar in spirit to the well-publicized hunt by Chicago Tribune investigative reporters David Jackson and Gary Marx to identify a wealthy businessman or group who would buy the flagship paper of the Tribune chain.

Details of the Baltimore group’s formation were outlined in a NewsGuild press release Thursday afternoon.

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that Ted Venetoulis worked with Abell to buy the Baltimore Sun in the late 2000s. 

Rick Edmonds is Poynter’s media business analyst. He can be reached at redmonds@poynter.org.

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Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years. His commentary on…
Rick Edmonds

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