Venetoulis calls report of talks on Sun untrue

BUSINESS DIGEST

January 11, 2007|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,Sun reporter

The leader of a local group that wants to buy The Sun denied yesterday a published report that it is in "serious negotiations" to buy the daily newspaper, though he says he still hopes to eventually get a chance to bid for the publication.

Theodore G. Venetoulis, a publisher and former Baltimore County executive who is leading the Baltimore Media Group that hopes to buy the newspaper, said an article in yesterday's Examiner is "totally untrue."

"There are no negotiations going on," said Venetoulis, who says he has been unable to get The Sun's parent, Tribune Co., to disclose financial information about the newspaper for his investors to study.

Tribune is entertaining bids for the entire company, which includes 11 newspapers, more than 20 television stations and the Chicago Cubs. Those reported to be interested in the whole company include California billionaires Eli Broad and Ronald W. Burkle, newspaper publisher Gannett Co. and several private equity groups.

Venetoulis said he did not talk with The Examiner's reporter or anyone else at the publication about the group's plans. His only conversation with The Examiner, Ventoulis said, was a brief meeting with a reporter at a political event in Baltimore last week.

But Examiner reporter Len Lazarick, the author of yesterday's article, said he had a short conversation with Venetoulis about the group's progress. Lazarick acknowledged yesterday that he misunderstood Venetoulis' comments about the status of any negotiations.

The Examiner reported that Venetoulis told Baltimore City Council member Mary Pat Clarke at the political event Friday that, "We're really going to get" The Sun. Venetoulis contends he said: "We're really trying to get it," and that the reporter must have misheard the conversation.

Clarke yesterday described her conversation with Venetoulis as very short and said she left with the impression that the group's efforts were continuing.

Lazarick said he overheard the conversation but followed up with Venetoulis a few minutes later.

"I asked him a couple of questions based on the conversation that I overheard. And that's what I went with."

After discussing the article with Venetoulis yesterday, Lazarick said he "misunderstood the nature of the negotiations. We're going to do some kind of follow-up. ... "

Tribune put itself up for sale in September under pressure from its largest shareholder, the Chandler family. The company in November delayed until early this year a decision on whether to sell all or part of the company.

Venetoulis has said he believes his group will be able to bid on The Sun only if someone else buys all of Tribune and then seeks to sell some individual properties. "We can't begin negotiations or discussions until Tribune has made its decision on what to do with the [whole] company," he said.

hanah.cho@baltsun.com

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