Bloomberg reported Tuesday that Tribune Co., owner of the L.A. Times along with the Chicago Tribune and six other newspapers, is "talking to bankers about a possible sale" of the newspaper properties.
Media watchers swiftly named Rupert Murdoch as a potential buyer, as has already been widely speculated, here at the DeBord Report and pretty much everywhere else that's following the prospective new owernship of Tribune's newspapers.
What's interesting here is that Tribune Co. is effectively owned at this point by bankers. To be specific, J.P. Morgan Chase, L.A.-based Oaktree Capital Management (a private equity firm), and Angelo, Gordon & Co. (a specialist in distressed newspaper debt). So you have the unsurprising event of Tribune electing to put some or all of its newspapers up for sale to avoid the challenge of reviving that form of media from a long-term structural decline. That's happening right alongside the odd specter of bankers, at some level, talking to yet more bankers about how much the papers are worth and who might buy them.
This is what the newspaper business has become. A money game, played by money people. Warren Buffet, it's worth pointing out, has been buying papers. The Orange Country Register was recently bought by Boston greeting card mogul Aaron Kushner, probably in emulation of Buffett. Kushner has suggested that he might be in the market for the L.A. Times, if it comes up for sale.
Buffett, for what it's worth, said Thursday that he might be interested in picking up one of the smaller Tribune papers, the Morning Call, published in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley. The Morning Call's own Sam Kennedy explained why: "[I]ndustry analysts say The Morning Call — a dominant newspaper in a medium-size metropolitan area with limited TV competition — fits the profile of other Buffett newspapers."
At one level, the state of the newspaper industry is undeniably depressing. But at another, it's clear that at least a few well-financed buyers, Buffett among them, continue to think that newspapers are worth the risk