By Don Babwin
CHICAGO — An investor group headed by a former Chicago city council member and labor unions has submitted a bid to buy the Chicago Sun-Times — a move that, if successful, would prevent the paper’s biggest rival from purchasing it.
The bid led by former Alderman Edwin Eisendrath and the Chicago Federation of Labor comes a month after the owner of the Sun-Times, Chicago-based-Wrapports LLC announced it had agreed to enter into discussions with Tronc, which owns the rival Chicago Tribune and several other major newspapers, to acquire the paper.
Eisendrath would not discuss details of the bid to buy Wrapports, but confirmed the investor group has raised about $15 million.
Sun-Times Publisher and Editor in Chief Jim Kirk said the company is evaluating the new bid.
Eisendrath said a major motivation to buy the paper is to make sure his hometown has a paper that tells the stories of working people.
“In my view, a great newspaper in a great democracy has to tell stories that are meaningful to 99 percent of the people,” he told The Associated Press Tuesday.
Eisendrath said that he was motivated to put together a bid in part because he was “very concerned” that if Tronc takes over the paper the sale would lead to the demise of the Sun-Times, even though Tronc has promised to run two separate newspapers.
“I also think having a monopoly voice…is a terrible idea,” he said.
There are only about a dozen two-newspaper cities left in the United States, according to John Carroll, assistant professor of mass communication at Boston University.
Eisendrath was a Chicago public school teacher before he made a successful run as an alderman. He left the City Council when President Bill Clinton appointed him to a key post with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He is now a managing partner for StrateSphere Global Initiatives, an international consulting firm.
Eisendrath said joining together with labor unions made sense because it might boost readership thanks to the hundreds of thousands of members unions.
The second bid adds more uncertainty to the fate of the newspaper that became part of journalism lore when it secretly operated a bar to expose crooked city inspectors. The Sun-Times also was home to the famed movie critic Roger Ebert and legendary columnist Mike Royko, before he left for the Tribune.
Last month’s announcement that Tronc had agreed to enter discussions to buy the paper came after it was clear there was little interest among other media companies. But that move caught the attention of the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, which asked Wrapports to extend the deadline to allow bids from other potential buyers.
For years, many thought the Sun-Times was in danger of going out of business. Like many papers across the country, the Sun-Times has seen its advertising revenues and print circulation decline. The paper has a history of financial problems that included a fraud conviction in 2007 of Conrad Black, the British-Canadian media baron who owned the paper, on allegations of siphoning millions of dollars from the company to defraud shareholders.
In 2009, Sun-Times Media Group declared bankruptcy, and a group of investors headed by James Tyree, chairman of Mesirow Financial Holdings, bought the company out of bankruptcy for about $26 million later that year. Then in 2011, Wrapports, which owns The Reader, an alternative weekly newspaper, bought Sun-Times Media.