If you hadn't noticed, it's a hell of a time to be in the newspaper business. Last month, we wondered aloud about the imminent sale of the Tribune newspaper company -- which includes our local beacon of truth and coupons, the Sun-Sentinel -- to a bunch of banks and hedge funds.
Last week, it was announced that the sale went through, and the Sun-Sentinel has some new owners: JPMorgan Chase; Oaktree Capital Management; and Angelo, Gordon & Co.
Could it mean the end of the road for our local paper? Investors around the country are buying and selling newspapers like hot potatoes as they lose millions of dollars in value every month.
That last firm -- Angelo, Gordon -- is no stranger to daily-newspaper acquisitions: It purchased the company behind the two daily papers in Philadelphia back in 2010, splitting with another firm the total cost of $139 million. This spring, the papers were sold again, for $55 million.
It seems pretty likely that the firms will be looking to unload the Sun-Sentinel as soon as possible, before its value plummets further. Financiers are not in the publishing industry, and they can tell a money-losing prospect when they see one.
There's no sign for now of how this will affect our local paper, not to mention the flagship Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. The word to Tribune Co. employees, according to Reuters, has been to expect "some speculation" but "try to avoid it as much as possible." But newspaper types aren't too good at keeping the lid on big changes.
To finish up the bankruptcy, Tribune is negotiating the rights to sell its broadcast licenses to other companies. The company has followed a tortured path after being acquired, along with the Chicago Cubs baseball team, for $8.2 billion in 2007 by billionaire blowhard Sam Zell.
The company's broadcast marquees should fetch some good cash. The papers, however, are a less attractive offer. Rupert Murdoch is trying to split his newspapers from the more profitable online and TV ventures that support them. Even crazy ol' Warren Buffet, who's been on a newspaper-buying spree of late, has signaled that the only ones he considers good investments are in small, close-knit communities that depend on the paper for local news.
But here, in a transient land where the smoldering wrecks of three once-thriving papers share stories, shed staffers, and compete with hallucinogenic TV evening news, things seem less certain. We'll look for some more hints of how it might go -- and hope the Sun-Sentinel gets room to grow instead of a death sentence.
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