Chicago Tribune’s New Investor Is Hedge Fund Known for Layoffs

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(Bloomberg) -- Tribune Publishing Co. soared as much as 15% after Alden Global Capital LLC, a hedge fund known for making deep cuts to newsrooms, bought out the newspaper company’s largest stockholder.

Shares of the company, which publishes the namesake Chicago Tribune and other big-city newspapers, traded as high as $11.20 after Alden purchased 9.07 million shares from Michael Ferro and his Merrick Ventures for about $118 million. Tribune is in talks with Alden to put two of its representatives on the board, the company said Tuesday.

The rally was the biggest intraday increase since February.

Chicago Tribune’s New Investor Is Hedge Fund Known for Layoffs

The sale caps a turbulent stretch for Tribune, owner of the Chicago Tribune and other big-city papers. The company has been beset by controversy since Ferro became its largest shareholder and took over as chairman in early 2016. He stepped down in March 2018 just as Fortune magazine was set to detail sexual-harassment accusations against him.

It was previously in talks to merge with McClatchy Co., though those discussions fizzled a year ago. Tribune also changed its name in 2016 to the widely ridiculed Tronc, part of an attempt to modernize the business. It went back to Tribune Publishing last year.

Pondering Options

Newspaper chains across the country are pondering their options as they lose readers and advertising. Even with mergers and reorganizations, the businesses have struggled to adapt to a world where Google and Facebook suck up billions in ad dollars. That’s led to thousands of newsroom jobs getting eliminated.

“The Tribune Publishing board of directors looks forward to working with Alden to enhance our company’s value as the company continues to provide valuable journalism for our customers and communities,” Chairman David Dreier said in a statement.

Alden is the backer of MNG Enterprises Inc., which tried unsuccessfully to acquire Gannett Co. for $1.36 billion earlier this year. It also was rebuffed in its efforts to gain board seats at Gannett, owner of USA Today and the Arizona Republic.

Workers at Gannett were concerned that a MNG takeover would take a knife to its operations. MNG, owner of the Denver Post, St. Paul Pioneer Press and other daily newspapers, is known for heavy layoffs.

Union Worried

Gannett was ultimately acquired by New Media Investment Group Inc. -- a deal that closed Tuesday -- and that buyer has stressed that job cuts won’t be severe.

The Chicago Tribune Guild, which represents the newspaper’s editorial employees, expressed concern about the company’s new stockholder.

“Alden has a well-established history of harming media institutions and journalists,” the union said. “Still, no matter who owns these shares, we promise to fight as hard as we can to protect our members, improve our company and serve our readers.”

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