Tribune Publishing, the Chicago owner of the Los Angeles Times, has indicated it intends to file a bid for the bankrupt owner of the Orange County Register.
Tribune said in a document filed with bankruptcy court in Santa Ana on Monday that it aims to make a stalking-horse bid on some or all of Freedom’s assets that would set the starting price for a possible auction.
The company is quickly moving to “make a stalking-horse offer that Tribune Publishing is optimistic will be viewed as the highest and best offer,” according to the filing.
Tribune, which is one of Freedom’s creditors, said it was forming the deal “at the invitation of the debtors.”
The document also affirmed Tribune’s offer from last week to supply Freedom with $3 million for its bankruptcy case in return for the ability to bid on the company.
“We merely want the opportunity to bid at a fair, open, transparent proceeding,” a Tribune lawyer told the Wall Street Journal last week.
A Tribune spokesman said the company would not comment on the filing. It’s unclear whether Tribune intends to buy Freedom or whether its bid would simply be a way to set a floor in any eventual auction price, thereby protecting its loan.
If it were to acquire the Register along with its sister paper, the Riverside Press-Enterprise, Tribune would have geographic domination in Southern California. Tribune, which picked up the San Diego Union-Tribune earlier this year, would have coverage from the Mexican border into Ventura County.
Tribune came under scrutiny around Thanksgiving when media mogul Rupert Murdoch tweeted that he had a “strong word” that the company planned to sell itself, with the Times going to Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad.
But Tribune denied it had any plans to sell in an email to employees filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. And Broad said in a television interview released Tuesday that he was not in talks to purchase his local paper.
“I made inquiries,” Broad told Tavis Smiley on PBS. “I’m not aware of anything going on.”
But Broad did said he would support new owners close to home at a time when the Times newsroom has cut about 80 staffers.
“I believe local ownership would be a great thing for the Los Angeles Times and the people of Los Angeles and southern California, because we would want to invest in the future of the paper and not just keep cutting the newsroom staff,” Broad said.
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