By Herbert G. McCann
CHICAGO — Two longtime newspaper rivals in the once highly competitive Chicago market may end with the acquisition of the Chicago Sun-Times by the owner of the Chicago Tribune, which has grabbed the attention of the U.S. Justice Department Monday.
Chicago-based Wrapports LLC announced in a statement it has agreed to enter into discussions with tronc Inc., owner of several major newspapers, after failing to interest other media companies in acquiring the Sun-Times.
In a statement, Wrapports states if tronc acquires the Sun-Times, it would operate the newspaper as a separate unit, keeping in place the independent newsroom.
“The investors and board members of Wrapports have been committed to keeping a strong media voice in Chicago alive,” Wrapports Chairman John Canning said. “We believe an ownership that can bring substantial digital resources is necessary and is the best path for the Sun-Times long term.”
Wrapports said it voluntarily informed the U.S. Justice Department of its talks with tronc and will accede to the department’s suggestion to advertise that the Sun-Times is up for sale. The ad will be placed in the Sun-Times on Tuesday.
The privately owned Wrapports says the Sun-Times will be sold to tronc if no other viable buyer expresses substantial interest within 15 days of the advertisement inviting expressions of interest.
The Justice Department’s Antitrust Division announced in a statement it will closely monitor the sale process for the Sun-Times. It is advising interested prospective buyers to contact the department.
Last year, the Justice Department stopped Tribune Media Group — tronc’s former name — from taking over the Orange County Register due to antitrust issues. Tronc also owns the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune.
“If we successfully close, we will be pleased to have the Chicago Sun-Times join our existing family of strong brands and help it maintain its independent voice,” tronc CEO and Director Justin Dearborn said. “tronc will benefit from increased unique visitors, better engagement with Sun-Times consumers and more data for future troncX initiatives.”
In addition to the Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, Chicago-based tronc publishes the Orlando Sentinel and the Baltimore Sun. The Tribune has handled all of the Sun-Times’ printing and distribution since 2007.
Knight says since 2011 the two companies have discussed the possibility of a further combination of the businesses, resulting in the Chicago Tribune Media Group’s 2014 purchase of the Sun-Times’ suburban-Chicago newspapers.
According to tronc executives, Wrapports management approached tronc about pursuing the latest transaction.
“We look forward to operating the Sun-Times as a separate news unit, which means an independent Sun-Times will continue to produce the award winning journalism readers are accustomed to seeing online and print daily,” said Jim Kirk, Sun-Times publisher and editor-in-chief.