In a deal worth approximately $633 million, Tribune Publishing shareholders approved the sale of the legacy media organization to hedge fund Alden Global Capital at a special shareholders’ meeting on Friday. Two-thirds of the shareholders had to approve the sale for it to go through. Tribune said that approximately 81.28% of the shares held by non-Alden shareholders voted to approve the merger. Alden currently owns 31.3% of Tribune Publishing stock.
“Today’s results represent an important milestone in completing the transaction, and we appreciate the strong support we received from Tribune stockholders,” said Philip G. Franklin, chairman of the board and a member of the special committee, in a news release.
Company to go private
The deal, which will make Alden the second-largest newspaper owner in the United States, is expected to close on Tuesday. Non-Alden stockholders will receive a cash payment of $17.25 per share. After the deal closes, Tribune will become a privately held company and will no longer be listed on the NASDAQ, or any other, stock exchange.
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong did not vote
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the owner of the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union Tribune, was the second largest shareholder of Tribune Publishing, owning 23.7% of Tribune Publishing stock. Soon-Shiong had the sole power to stop the Alden deal.
The Chicago Tribune, owned by Tribune Publishing, reported that Soon-Shiong returned his ballot without choosing “for,” “against,” or “abstain.” Per the voting instructions on the ballot, his votes were tallied as votes in favor of the multi-million-dollar deal. The tech billionaire will make approximately $150 million on his 8.7 million shares.
“Dr. Soon-Shiong abstained from voting,” said Hillary Manning, a spokeswoman for Soon-Shiong, in a statement. “For the past several years, Tribune Publishing has been a passive investment, as he has remained focused on the leadership roles he holds across his companies. When he made the investment in 2016, he hoped it would be a pathway to local newspaper ownership in Southern California. In 2018, he and his family were proud to acquire the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune from Tribune Publishing, creating the California Times. Their focus is and will be on the continued rebuilding and revitalization of The Times and Union-Tribune.”
In addition to the Chicago Tribune, Tribune Publishing owns The Baltimore (Maryland) Sun; the Hartford (Connecticut) Courant; the Orlando (Florida) Sentinel; the South Florida Sun Sentinel; the New York Daily News; the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland; The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania; the Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia; and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia.
The NewsGuild speaks out
Earlier this month, in a formal plea to the Securities and Exchange Commission, The NewsGuild urged shareholders to reject Alden’s offer. The NewsGuild represents newsroom employees in eight of Tribune Publishing’s nine metro newspapers. The organization made a formal statement against the sale:
“Today, Tribune Publishing shareholders voted to put profit and greed over local news in our country.
While we are saddened by the turn of events, we know that our work over the past year — to build allies in the community and to raise awareness about Alden — is not in vain. Those allies will support us as we fight against Alden to protect local news and the cuts that they will inevitably try to make.
We stand ready, willing and able to fight.
Baltimore Sun Guild
Chesapeake News Guild
Chicago Tribune Guild
Design & Production Studio Guild
Daily News Union
Gary Newspaper Guild
Hartford Courant Guild
Orlando Sentinel Guild
Pioneer Press Unit of Chicago Newspaper Guild
Suburban Chicago Tribune Guild
The Morning Call Guild
Tidewater Media Guild
Tribune Content Guild”
Alden president’s statement
In a statement, Alden president Heath Freeman said, “Local newspaper brands and operations are the engines that power trusted local news in communities across the United States. The purchase of Tribune reaffirms our commitment to the newspaper industry and our focus on getting publications to a place where they can operate sustainably over the long term.”
After much back and forth, and wheeling and dealing, the Tribune Publishing-Alden Global Capital saga ends. What comes next remains unknown, though there are at least three pending lawsuits against Tribune Publishing. It is believed in the news industry that Alden will do with Tribune Publishing what it has done to other newspaper acquisitions. It will make deep cuts and layoffs which impact local news coverage and the people who make it happen, from the distribution, printing and operations teams to the journalists, editors and publishers. Freeman’s brief statement alludes to that fact when he references sustainability over the long term. No one knows what Alden’s plans are, but it seems likely that Tribune Publishing’s newspapers will never be the same.