Orange County Register owner eyes Tribune papers

December 29, 2012

The Associated Press

 

SANTA ANA, Calif. — The publisher of the Orange County Register said Thursday that at an investor group he leads may want to buy Tribune Co.'s newspapers after the media conglomerate emerges from bankruptcy.

"We clearly have the means and the team by which to look seriously at the Tribune papers and, from the outside, they may very well have enough of the elements that we're looking for," said Aaron Kushner, chief executive of 2100 Trust LLC, which bought Freedom Communications Inc. and its flagship paper, the Register, in July.

Tribune, which is expected to leave bankruptcy protection soon, owns the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and five other daily newspapers. The Chicago-based conglomerate also operates 23 television stations.

Kushner cautioned that he hasn't examined Tribune's finances but signaled he would move quickly if he determined its newspapers are a good fit.

"I think it's a pretty small group that potentially could fit our model," he said in an interview.

Kushner, who is also Freedom Communications' CEO, has overseen the hiring of dozens of journalists and a major expansion of the print edition of the Register, the nation's 20th-largest newspaper by circulation and a direct competitor of the Los Angeles Times. Freedom Communications is the 39-year-old's first foray in newspapers after he flirted with buying The Boston Globe and newspapers in Maine.

Tribune filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2008, less than a year after a debt-laden buyout engineered by Sam Zell. Its new owners include JPMorgan Chase & Co., debt specialist Angelo, Gordon & Co., and hedge fund Oaktree Capital Management.

Kushner said he expects the Tribune's new owners would sell the newspapers in a single package.

"There's a tremendous amount of infrastructure that's shared among the newspapers, and they have been together, with the exception of the LA Times, for a long time," Kushner said. "Disassembling them in an auction sort of a way or a process may be achievable, but our sense is it would end up resulting in significantly less for the current owners of the Tribune Co."

Freedom recently sold The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colo. Kushner signaled he was open to selling Freedom's five smaller newspapers in California and Arizona.

"We wouldn't have bought them if we didn't love them. That said, if we find that there is an owner that can do an even better job than us with them, we'll talk with them," he said.