- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2006

CHICAGO (AP) — Tribune Co.’s stock rose modestly yesterday amid reports that interest in buying the media conglomerate has stepped up, including a potential bid from Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper publisher.

Gannett’s reported interest brings a large media player into the Tribune’s potential sell-off for the first time and could provide significant competition to such confirmed bidders as Los Angeles billionaires Ronald Burkle and Eli Broad.

After opening 1.8 percent higher following the published reports, Tribune Co. shares rose 43 cents, or 1.3 percent, to close at $32.46 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Media analyst Edward Atorino of the Benchmark Co. said interest by Gannett alters the Tribune Co. situation and confirms its media assets are still prized within the industry.

“Gannett kicking the tires — that’s serious stuff,” he said. “Gannett doesn’t fool around.”

Gannett is the only newspaper company big enough to buy all of Tribune Co., Mr. Atorino said, but is likely just interested in buying Tribune television stations, with a stable of newspapers that is focused mainly on smaller cities than Tribune’s.

Gannett executives visited Chicago last week and listened to presentations on Tribune Co.’s financial situation, the Chicago Tribune reported, citing two unidentified sources. The Wall Street Journal reported on the visit by Gannett executives yesterday, a day after the Tribune’s initial report.

The Journal also said Tribune had informal discussions with MediaNews Group Inc., owner of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, the Denver Post and the Detroit News, about certain Tribune assets, including the Hartford (Conn.) Courant.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Gannett could bid for Tribune Co.’s newspaper properties, while the Journal reported that Gannett is interested in the entire company. Tribune’s holdings include the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Cubs, WGN-TV and several other media outlets.

Tribune has said it will decide whether to sell all or parts of the company by the end of the year.

Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell and Tribune Co. spokesman Gary Weitman declined to comment.

“As we outlined in a press release on September 28, the board plans to make an announcement when the strategic review process is complete, which is expected before the end of the year,” Mr. Weitman said yesterday. “Until the board makes its announcement, we’ll have no comment.”

Gannett, which is based in McLean, Va., publishes 90 U.S. newspapers, including USA Today.

In response to unhappiness with its lagging stock price and sagging fortunes, Tribune signaled its willingness to sell all or part of the company in September.

Tribune has since contacted Gannett, MediaNews Group, Hearst Corp., and has been in touch with News Corp., which has expressed interest in Newsday, the Journal reported.

MediaNews and News Corp. declined comment.

Several investor groups have expressed interest in the company and submitted preliminary, nonbinding bids.

Other potential buyers include Mr. Burkle and Mr. Broad, who had expressed interest in buying the Los Angeles Times, but made a joint offer Wednesday for the entire company.

The New York Times reported yesterday that Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, former chairman of insurer American International Group Inc., has been contacting investment bankers and lawyers about pursuing an offer for Tribune or another newspaper company such as the Boston Globe or perhaps Dow Jones & Co.

Mr. Greenberg’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, confirmed the 81-year-old’s interest in media companies yesterday but declined to elaborate.

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