Now that talks have broken down between Tribune Publishing and hotel mogul Stewart Bainum, reporters at the news company are hoping a miracle will derail a $ 634 million bid from cost-cutting hedge fund Alden which will give him control of the New York Daily News, the Hartford Courant, the Chicago Tribune and other Tribune newspapers.
âEveryone’s nervous,â Liz Bowie, a 30-year veteran of the Baltimore Sun and a representative for the Newspaper Guild union, told her newspaper.
Over the past six months, Bowie has spoken to Guild representatives in other Tribune papers also represented by the union. They’ve formed a group they call Project Mayhem in an effort to help find the cash Bainum needs to beat Alden, including networking with people with deep pockets who might be interested in teaming up for an offer.
They have done so in part by hosting awareness events, which they hope will lead to new investors. Three weeks ago, for example, Bowie led a âSave Our Sunâ rally.
Bainum buying Tribune vs. Alden, Bowie laments, is “the difference between winning the lottery and ending my career in journalism.”
Alden Global Capitol’s $ 634 million offer is the only offer left on the table ahead of the May 21 shareholder vote on the $ 17.25 per share offer. A competing $ 681 million offer from Bainum evaporated when its investment partner, Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, pulled out after initially offering the company $ 18.50 per share.
Bainum, according to sources, is working to find new buyers with deep pockets to join it in a long-drawn-out effort to restart its offering.
“It’s not implausible,” said Ted Venetoulis, a former Baltimore County executive who helped Bainum, president of Choice Hotels International, try to put together a deal. “If it comes up with additional funding, the Tribune board will have to consider it,” he said.
âHe’s working hard at it,â Venetoulis said.
But the clock is ticking.
And Tribune reporters are worried about a takeover of Alden given the deep cuts he has made to other newspapers he controls, including the Denver Post, the Boston Herald and the San Jose. Mercury News.
âA lot of local people when they hear what’s going on get angry,â said Wendy Fox Weber, a representative for Chicago community newspapers who also coined the term Project Mayhem. âNow the civic-minded rich must come forward and support Bainum,â she said.
But it gets harder and harder as even local investors interested in buying specific Tribune papers express doubts about Bainum’s chances.
“If Bainum wins, I will support him, but I will not do anything to compromise my chances,” said an investor while spotting one of the local Tribune newspapers. Another contender in a different local market said the plan is to negotiate a deal with whoever ends up being the winning bidder for the entire company.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel is one of the few newspapers under the Tribune that is not represented by the News Guild. Mason Slaine, a minority shareholder in Tribune, has said he wants to buy the Sun Sentinel and the Orlando Sentinel and would be willing to pledge $ 100 million to support Bainum, who has also pledged $ 100 million.
Reached Thursday by Media Ink, Slaine said, “I cannot comment.” He then hung up the phone.
The National Labor Relations Board is overseeing a Daily News organizing vote, which ends April 30. An overwhelming majority of its nearly 70-member newsroom handed out cards asking for Guild representation, but the company refused to grant voluntary recognition and insisted the NLRB oversee a mail vote.
The Daily News is not considered officially unionized until a vote has been certified and therefore has not been able to join with other Guild members in seeking out local White Knights in order to keep the distressed journal from Alden’s clutches.