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The Tribune's Publisher Is Poised To Buy The Sun-Times, & People Are Worried

By Stephen Gossett in News on May 15, 2017 10:30PM

Getty Images / Photo: Scott Olson

The insatiable ouroboros that is the contemporary media landscape just delivered one of the all-time tail bites: the publisher of the Chicago Tribune is poised to buy the publisher of the Sun-Times.

tronc, Inc.—the owners of the Tribune—announced on Monday that the company has submitted a non-binding letter of intent to purchase Wrapports Holdings, LLC. The deal would also include the alt-weekly Chicago Reader, which Wrapports publishes.

Neither Wrapports nor tronc—they of the laughable name and no-laughing-matter acquisitive tendencies—disclosed financial terms of the deal, which are apparently not yet finalized.

According to a release from Wrapports, both sides have notified and are working the Department of Justice's antitrust division. A letter will be published Tuesday by Wrapports of its intent to sell the Sun-Times. "If no other bidder comes forward, tronc will be that buyer and the acquisition will close as early as June 1," according to a release. tronc would then publish the Sun-Times. The announcement states that the Chicago Sun-Times will continue to run its independent newsroom—thereby assuaging all fears that the acquisition will be anything but business as usual.

The consolidation-of-a-lifetime was met with immediate gritted-teeth apprehension, no surprise. Under CEO Michael Ferro and investor Sam Zell, tronc.—the company formerly known as Tribune Publishing Company—have not been bashful about their quasi-Orwellian visions of ultra-optimized, self-generating content (we exaggerate only the teensiest). It was there again, between the lines, even in the official line.

tronc CEO and director Justin Dearborn said in a statement:

"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 will benefit from increased unique visitors, better engagement with Sun-Times consumers and more data for future troncX initiatives." (Emphasis ours.)

Ferro was actually one of the principals who launched Wrapports, back in 2011, so his and tronc's interest has long been the subject of speculation. Still, no one who closely watches Chicago media was enthused by tronc's seemingly imminent purchase of the Sun-Times—which the Tribune very shade-ily described as a "scrappy but struggling tabloid" on Monday.

The news arrives just one week after another merger that portends seismic implications for Chicago and beyond: the multi-billion dollar purchase of Tribune Media—which holds 42 television stations in 33 markets, including WGN in Chicago—by the Trump-cozy Sinclair Group.

For perspective on how all-encompassing tronc's grip just on the local media landscape is, just consider the list below of its Chicago-area properties even before news of this likely sale. And this is to say nothing of the LA Times—and its own suburban satellites—the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel and numerous other major assets.

-Chicago Tribune
-SouthtownStar (Chicago)
-Post-Tribune (Merrillville, Indiana)
-Naperville Sun (Naperville)
-Elgin Courier-News (Elgin)
-Aurora Beacon (Aurora)
-Lake County News-Sun (Gurnee)
-Pioneer Press
-Chicago Magazine
-Naperville Magazine
-Hoy (also in Los Angeles)
-Chicago Now
-RedEye Chicago

So, unless something unexpected develops, the Sun-Times and the Chicago Reader will be the next in line. Speaking of the Reader, it was just three days ago that unionized staff at the venerable alt-weekly voted to authorize a strike, primarily over a lack of significant increase in wages and benefits. A spokesperson for unionized staff declined to comment about tronc's intent to acquire Wrapports.

The deal does still need to be approved by the feds, who officially announced an investigation on Monday. But if recent history is any indicator, there hasn't been much appetite against news/media consolidation from the Trump administration. You'll be able to catch up in one of two distinctly owned papers soon—perhaps for the last time.