Explaining Southern California's economy

Peter Liguori becomes new Tribune CEO, calls the company a startup

2010 Winter TCA Tour - Day 6

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Meet the new CEO of Tribune Co., owner — and possible soon a seller — of the L.A. Times.

Tribune Co. emerged from bankruptcy last year owned by a bank, JP Morgan, and private equity investors from Los Angeles-based Oaktree Capital Management. Now it's going to be run by an executive whose most recent job was at the giant private equity firm the Carlyle Group. Peter Liguori landed there for a stint after serving as the Chief Operating Officer at Discovery Communications.

Last year, the bankers and private-equity guys who now control the company started to talking to yet more bankers about possibly selling Tribune Co.'s newspapers, which include the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, as well as local TV station KTLA.

In an interview with the L.A. Times published Thursday, Liguori said that he's isn't interested in selling, say...the L.A. Times for a "fire sale" price. And then he said some other things:

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Bankers talk to bankers about possible LA Times sale

Kevork Djansezian/AP

The Los Angeles Times building. Parent company Tribune could sell they newspaper on emerging from bankruptcy.

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.

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Orange Country Register sale to Boston-area investor closes

OCR-Front

The Orange Country Register's parent company, Freedom Communications, has been officially acquired by 2100 Trust LLC, headed by Massachusetts businessman Aaron Kushner.

The last pieces of Freedom Communications, including the Orange Country Register, have been sold to 2100 Trust LLC, an investment group led by Aaron Kushner, a Boston-area business man who initiated the purchase last month.

I took a stab at figuring out how big a deal this was, but no confirmation of my back-of-the-envelope math is forthcoming, as the deal size wasn't disclosed by Freedom or Kusher's group. The OCR's Mary Ann Mibourn did confirm an aspect of the purchase:

As part of the deal, Freedom Communications will make an additional one-time contribution to the company's retirement plan. The amount of the contribution was not disclosed.

This contribution was reportedly a dealbreaker for U-T San Diego owners Doug Manchester's ambitions to own two papers in Southern California. It could be a significant amount of money, beyond what 2100 Trust paid for the remnants of Freedom. As I wrote last month:

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If Eli Broad wants the L.A. Times, he'll need to go through Aurelius' Mark Brodsky

Kevork Djansezian/AP

The Los Angeles Times building. L.A. billionaire Eli Broad is once against interested in buying the struggling newspaper.

Yep, it could be Broad versus Brodsky for the future of the L.A. Times, which is currently embroiled in the never-ending Tribune Co. bankruptcy. The L.A. billionaire philanthropist against the bankruptcy lawyer turned hedge-fund CEO. 

Brodsky's Aurelius Capital Management, based in New York, is fighting hard for its piece of Tribune's liabilities, basically forcing the company's senior creditors, including Oaktree Capital Management, to delay their hopes that they could get the viable parts of the media giant out of Chapter 11, leaving the junior creditors to tussle over the scraps. But Brodsky doesn't play that game, and he's no stranger to pressing his case and pressing it hard.

This can create some controversy. During the bankruptcy of what was left of Washington Mutual after the FDIC sold its banking business to JP Morgan Chase in 2008, Aurelius was accused by a single shareholder of insider trading because the hedge fund, along with three others, wouldn't back a reorganization plan. However, the bankruptcy judge eventually decided to "vacate" a ruling that would have enabled the shareholders to sue the hedge funds, effectively erasing the accusation from the legal record.

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A new round of layoffs hits the L.A. Times

Kevork Djansezian/AP

The Los Angeles Times building. It's emptier than it was last week.

The first quarter of 2012 is almost over, and you know what that means: more layoffs at the Los Angeles Times. According to LAObserved, "as many as 20 people may be out" — but the business section is hiring a reporter to cover the food-and-agriculture beat. 

Layoffs have become a fact of life at the LAT, whose parent, Tribune Co., is still in bankruptcy. What appears to be going on now is that the paper is chopping back on its features and special sections, concentrating instead on news, business, sports, and entertainment — the core coverage areas. Three stand-alone weekly section, for example, were recently rolled into one Saturday section.

This happened at the same time the LAT announced the introduction of a paywall

Economic pressure on the newspaper business has caused a reversal — a slow reversal — of a trend that defined the growth of big metro dailies like the LATimes and the New York Times. The creation of additional sections covering topics like food, health, science meant that newspapers needed additional platforms for ads. This transformed broadsheets into hefty print products. The Wall Street Journal has defied this reversal, adding lifestyle sections since 2010. But that's a case of a paper that primarily covered the financial markets going for a more general interest/metro New York mix.

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