The head of Tribune Co.'s publishing division said yesterday that The Sun and the company's other newspapers are not for sale, beyond the two small Connecticut papers it agreed to shed this week.
Tribune announced Tuesday that it is selling The Advocate of Stamford and the Greenwich Time to Gannett Co. for $73 million as part of the company's plans to improve its finances.
The Chicago media company is expected to decide by the end this month whether to sell or restructure the company. The Los Angeles Times reported in yesterday's editions that Chicago real estate mogul Sam Zell has emerged as a strong contender to buy the company.
Scott C. Smith, president of Tribune Publishing, said the two Connecticut papers, the company's smallest newspapers with a combined circulation of about 39,000, did not fit Tribune's strategy of owning print and online properties in major markets.
Smith said Tribune's remaining nine newspapers, including The Sun, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and Newsday, are not for sale.
"Our newspapers are clear leaders in the major markets they serve and fit our strategic focus on larger publishing and interactive businesses," Smith said in a statement yesterday. "While the special committee of our board of directors continues to oversee Tribune's exploration of strategic alternatives, we have no current plans to sell additional newspapers."
Smith's statement came a day after he made more precise remarks about the future of The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., and the Daily Press in Newport News, Va.
In identically worded statements, Smith said each property is a "substantially larger paper than the papers we are selling in southern Connecticut" and that their "future outlook is good and there are no current plans to sell" them.
The two properties become Tribune's smallest newspapers after the sale of The Advocate and Greenwich Time.
As Tribune sought bids for the entire company, at least five newspapers have drawn interest from outside investors: The Sun, The Hartford Courant, The Morning Call, the Los Angeles Times and Newsday.
Theodore G. Venetoulis, a publisher and former Baltimore County executive who is leading a local group interested in buying The Sun, said yesterday that he was not discouraged by Tribune's current plans to keep its remaining newspaper assets.
Venetoulis has said 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 to pay down debt.
"Once they decide what to do with the parent company, it is our hope that their current plans would change," Venetoulis said. "It won't necessarily be Tribune making the decision. It'll be a new buyer. We're well prepared to deal with whoever acquires the Tribune Co."
Tribune put itself up for sale in September under pressure from its largest shareholder, the Chandler family.
The company is still expected to make a decision later this month on a possible restructuring or other move after a six-month strategic review by a special committee. Besides Zell's offer, the committee is considering bids by Los Angeles billionaires Eli Broad and Ron Burkle, and the Chandler family.
The committee also is exploring a management-led plan to spin off Tribune's television stations and pay shareholders a large dividend.
Zell's proposal involves buying Tribune by creating an employee stock ownership plan. The Los Angeles Times reported that Zell's bid is getting serious consideration because it would buy out the Chandlers and take the company private.