CHICAGO – Gannett Co. (GCI), the largest newspaper publisher in the nation, has surfaced as a potential buyer of the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers owned by Tribune Co. (TRB), according to published reports.
Gannett executives visited Chicago last week and listened to presentations on Tribune Co.'s financial situation, the Chicago Tribune reported Saturday, citing two unidentified sources. The Wall Street Journal reported on the visit by Gannett executives on Monday, citing unidentified sources familiar with the matter, and also said Tribune had had informal discussions with MediaNews Group Inc., owner of the San Jose Mercury News, The Denver Post and The Detroit News, about certain Tribune assets, including the Hartford Courant.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Gannett could bid for Tribune's newspaper properties, while the Journal reported that Gannett is interested in the entire company. Tribune's holdings also include the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Cubs, WGN-TV and several other media outlets. Tribune has said it will decide whether to sell all or parts of the company by the end of the year.
Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell and Tribune Co. spokesman Gary Weitman both declined to comment.
"We cannot confirm, deny or comment at all on any of the strategic review process currently under way," Weitman said.
Gannett, which is based in McLean, Va., publishes 90 U.S. newspapers, including USA Today.
In response to unhappiness with its lagging stock price and sagging fortunes, Tribune signaled its willingness to sell all or part of the company in September.
Tribune has since contacted Gannett, MediaNews Group, Hearst Corp., and been in touch with News Corp., which has expressed interest in Newsday, the Journal reported.
MediaNews and News Corp. declined to comment to the Journal.
Several investor groups have expressed interest in the company and submitted preliminary, nonbinding bids.
Other possible buyers include a pair of Los Angeles billionaires who had separately expressed interest in buying the Los Angeles Times, but made a joint offer Wednesday for the entire company.
The New York Times also reported Monday that Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, former chairman of insurer American International Group Inc., has been contacting investment bankers and lawyers about pursuing a possible offer for Tribune or another newspaper company such as The Boston Globe or perhaps Dow Jones & Co.
Greenberg spokesman Mark Corallo confirmed the 81-year-old Greenberg's interest in media companies Monday but declined to elaborate.
"Mr. Greenberg is exploring several options involving media companies," Corallo said. "But we cannot get into details."
Greenberg was forced to resign his AIG (AIG) post in March 2005 amid a widening accounting scandal. The Times, citing unidentified people close to Greenberg, said he also has put out feelers about joining other investors.
Tribune shares rose 43 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $32.47 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.