- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2006

BALTIMORE — The man behind a local effort to buy the Baltimore Sun from the Tribune Co. said yesterday he is encouraged by the amount of community support he has received.

“I have never witnessed this kind of response to a business transaction,” said Theodore G. Venetoulis, a former Baltimore County politician and current owner of a Maryland news and political magazine. “Newspapers still have a very substantial role in people’s lives. It touches the core of people.”

Mr. Venetoulis said he received several telephone calls from potential investors after reports were published yesterday revealing the group’s intentions.

“The group we’ve put together understand two things,” said Mr. Venetoulis, who lost a Democratic primary bid for governor in 1978. “One, that this will not be an investment that will provide the usual yield and return that some investors will be used to. Secondly, they’ve agreed that they would not in any way attempt to jeopardize the paper’s independence or attempt to give it a certain ideological bent.”

The group includes Abell Foundation President Robert C. Embry Jr. and longtime civic leader Walter Sondheim, the Sun reported.

The founders of the Abell Foundation sold the Baltimore Sun Co. to the Times Mirror Co. in 1986, which sold itself to the Tribune Co. in 2000.

The group has contacted the Tribune Co. about its interest but hasn’t made a formal offer for the paper. The Tribune Co. has declined to comment.

Meanwhile, two Boston buyout firms, Bain Capital LLC and Thomas H. Lee Partners LP, may make competing bids for the entire Tribune Co., according to reports published yesterday.

Mr. Venetoulis said that for tax reasons the Tribune Co. was more likely to sell itself as a whole rather than in pieces.

“We’ll probably have our best shot at owning the Sun once a private-equity group chooses to spin off the properties,” he said. “We can’t afford to buy the whole company ourselves.”

The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, which represents the Sun’s newsroom staff, recently meet with Mr. Venetoulis’ group and said it is open to the idea of a change in ownership.

“It’s early to say, but they seem sincere and we like what we’ve heard so far,” said Bill Salganik, a Sun reporter and president of the Washington-Baltimore guild. “We could imagine working with the Venetoulis group.”

The Baltimore group is the latest to seek to buy metropolitan daily newspapers from embattled corporations.

A group led by public relations and advertising executive Brian Tierney recently paid $515 million for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News.

A group led by Jack Welch, the former head of General Electric Co., said this week that it was interested in buying the Boston Globe. And in Los Angeles, three billionaires, including music executive David Geffen, have said they want to buy the Los Angeles Times, which also is owned by the Tribune Co.

Most large newspaper companies are publicly held, but as the sector has struggled with declining circulation and advertising revenue, it has fallen into disfavor on Wall Street, often leading to calls to break apart the businesses.

This article is based in part on wire services reports.

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