April 19, 2021

Hotel magnate Stewart Bainum Jr.’s effort to buy Tribune Publishing suffered a major setback over the weekend when his partner, Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, pulled out of the deal.

Wyss lost interest, The New York Times’ Katie Robertson reported Saturday, when he and his representatives looked at the books and no longer had confidence that they could transform the Chicago Tribune, his primary interest, into a strong national newspaper.

For now, that means a bid from hedge fund Alden Global Capital to buy shares it does not already own in a transaction valued at $630 million is the only offer on the table. A special committee of Tribune Publishing has recommended that shareholders vote to take the deal.

However, a source familiar with Bainum’s thinking said that he has already begun speaking with other potential investors and hopes to submit a new offer within a week to 10 days. The special committee said in securities filings that the $680 million Bainum and Wyss had proposed to pay appeared to be a “superior” offer that should be considered if financing was in place and it became firm rather than tentative.

Bainum lives in Maryland and has primarily been interested in acquiring The Baltimore Sun. Last fall he reached a tentative agreement with Alden to buy just the Sun for $65 million, but that came apart in a disagreement over fees for centralized services Alden would continue to provide.

Resurrecting that deal remains a possibility, the source said, but Bainum’s present focus is on finding new investors to acquire the whole company or to buy individual papers in their home communities.

Besides the Sun and the flagship Chicago Tribune, Tribune Publishing owns papers in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Hartford, Allentown, Norfolk/Newport News and New York City.

This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.

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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…
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