April 2, 2021

The Orlando Sentinel, one of Tribune Publishing’s nine metro papers, took a plunge in an editorial Friday asking its parent company to reject a takeover bid from hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

The editorial, headlined “Deliver us from Alden so the Orlando Sentinel can continue covering Central Florida,” notes growing investor interest that has formed around a last-minute white knight bid to overturn Tribune Publishing’s tentative agreement to be sold to Alden. It concludes:

“Our deepest hope is that the investors who are emerging as a possible antidote to Alden will prevail so the Orlando Sentinel and other Tribune Publishing newspapers can continue serving the public by reporting the news, and keeping you informed.”

Maryland investor Stewart Bainum Jr. has bid $18.25 a share (contingent on financing) for Tribune, $1.25 more per share than Alden.

In the last week he has been joined by Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss and retired publishing executive Mason Slaine. Slaine, who lives in Florida, has indicated a particular interest in the Orlando Sentinel and its sister paper the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida.

The editorial identifies another local businessman, Craig Mateer, founder of baggage handling firm Bags Inc., who has indicated an interest in investing in the Sentinel if it is spun off from Tribune.

The editorial begins by noting the Sentinel’s extensive reporting on local politician Joel Greenberg for alleged sexual misconduct, an investigation that now has become national news with the possible involvement of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. That kind of coverage would be endangered, it argues, if Alden gains control.

It notes Alden’s record of making deep cuts to newsrooms at papers like The Denver Post it already owns. “Alden’s history with newspaper ownership,” the editorial continues, “is akin to a biblical plague of locusts — it devours newsroom resources to maximize profits, leaving ruin in its wake.”

The piece is the work of the Sentinel’s editorial board, which includes opinion editor Mike Lafferty and editor-in-chief Julie Anderson.

I reached out to Tribune Publishing headquarters for comment and will include a response if I get it.

As matters stand, a special committee of three independent directors of Tribune Publishing’s board has asked shareholders to approve the Alden takeover despite Bainum’s upset bid. The company has said it hopes to close the deal this quarter.

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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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