Tribune Co. Rejects Consortium Inquiry About Baltimore Sun

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The embattled Tribune Co., which has put its 11 newspapers and 25 television stations up for sale, is not ready to consider bids for individual properties, the company said in an e-mail exchange with a Baltimore investor group.

Ted Venetoulis, a businessman and former local politician, is leading a consortium of prominent Baltimoreans who want to buy the Sun, if Tribune decides to break up the company and sell it piece by piece.

Last week, Venetoulis e-mailed Chicago-based Tribune asking if his group could look at the Sun's financials and begin performing due diligence in order to craft a bid for the paper.

Venetoulis said his group is assembling a management team and wants to examine "operations, the printing facilities, the union contracts, what the Internet is doing, the community papers and how they relate, all financial data, the history of ad sales, whether there's any revenue coming from the Web."

"There must be 50 questions to be looked at by people of expertise," Venetoulis said yesterday. Such data -- specific to Tribune's individual properties -- are not broken out in company earnings reports. Tribune has a market capitalization of $7.6 billion. The company's stock closed down 2 cents per share yesterday, at $31.96.

In response, Tribune declined Venetoulis access to the Sun's books, saying the company continues to seek a single buyer for all of its properties.

Venetoulis said he has had conversations with nearly all of the bidders who want to purchase the entire company to let them know they have a willing buyer for the Sun if the new owners want to unload the Baltimore paper.

The company received nonbinding bids in late October from Los Angeles billionaires Eli Broad and Ron Burkle, private equity firms Bain Capital, Thomas H. Lee Partners and Providence Equity Partners and record company mogul David Geffen. The Gannett Co., owner of USA Today, also reportedly expressed an interest.

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