Why Murdoch may pass on Tribune or Boston Globe

He can no longer finance publishing ventures with his other operations, so that leaves the field open to other bidders. Who might they be?

By Jonathan Berr Feb 27, 2013 12:35PM
Rupert Murdoch in October 2011 (© Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)Wannabe William Randolph Hearsts who aim to go on a newspaper shopping spree have a plethora of options, including the Tribune properties and The Boston Globe. And they may not have to worry about tangling with media tycoon Rupert Murdoch in making a deal.

Although the News Corp. (NWSA) CEO has often been mentioned as a potential buyer of the Tribune papers, many pundits such as Alan Mutter, who writes the Reflections of a Newosaur blog, note that circumstances have changed for Murdoch. For years, he has financed money-losing print operations with his lucrative broadcast business. That won't be possible with News Corp. severing its publishing properties from its other businesses.

Moreover, in the case of the Globe, the odds of the liberal Sulzbergers, who control the New York Times Co.  (NYT), selling the paper to the conservative Murdoch are remote. The Sulzbergers have been selling off properties such as About.com to focus on their company's flagship paper. A spokesperson for New York-based News Corp. couldn't immediately be reached.

Tribune, which recently emerged from bankruptcy protection, is planning to sell its papers such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Orlando Sentinel. Gary Weitman, a spokesman for Tribune, told The New York Times that hiring outside advisers was prompted by unsolicited interest in the properties. 

Mutter argues that publishers such as McClatchy (MNI) and Lee Enterprises (LEE) have their hands full with their existing big-city properties and may not want to take on more. Gannett (GCI), the nation's largest newspaper publisher, also may not be keen on adding more big-city dailies

Another potential bidder would be Warren Buffett. But he prefers papers in smaller communities that have less competition for readers and advertisers. The only Tribune paper that might interest him would be the Allentown Morning Call in Pennsylvania. He'd likely pass on The Boston Globe.

So, who might step up with an offer for Tribune's papers, which are reportedly profitable. They'll likely attract bidders such as Orange County Register owner Jared Kushner and The San Diego Union-Tribune's Doug Manchester, who may take a run at the Los Angeles Times. The owner of the Chicago Sun-Times could bid for the Chicago Tribune. None of these potential bidders could be reached for comment.

Murdoch, of course is unpredictable. But he'll have to be a disciplined bidder if he wants to expand further in print. 

--Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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