Its roots are in print journalism, but the Tribune Company has branched out to embrace virtually every aspect of modern media. One of the top newspaper publishers in the US, it owns about 10 major daily papers, including The Baltimore Sun, the Los Angeles Times and its hometown Chicago Tribune. Tribune also owns 23 TV stations in about 20 markets, cable network WGN America, and a stake in the Food Network. In addition, Tribune owns a number of investments in online media. Real estate tycoon Sam Zell took the company private in 2007; Tribune filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008. The company finally emerged late from the lengthy process in 2012.
The company fell victim to a perfect storm of recession and shifting fortunes in the media business. Tribune's newspapers had been experiencing declines in advertising revenue for several years as readers turned to other forms of media for news and information, and those declines were exacerbated by the sharp recession that resulted in weakness in the advertising market. At the same time, Tribune was struggling under the crushing weight of increased debt due to past acquisitions and Zell's $8.2 billion going-private transaction.
In July 2012 a judge approved a plan to transfer ownership of the company to a group of hedge funds and banks led by Los Angeles-based private investment fund Oaktree Capital Group. The ruling cleared the way for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to move forward with the company's application to transfer its broadcast licenses for radio and television to its new owners.
In addition to its flagship newspapers and televisions stations, the company's Tribune Media Services unit is a leading syndicator of news and other content.
The company has been focused on cutting costs as a way to manage declining revenue while disposing of assets to pay down debt. Tribune exited the professional sports business in 2009 when it sold the Chicago Cubs baseball team to a group led by Chicago billionaire and lifelong Cubs fan Tom Ricketts. Tribune retained a 5% stake in the ball club. The $840 million deal also included historic Wrigley Field and a 25% stake in cable sports channel Comcast SportsNet Chicago. (.)
Zell, who controls Equity Group Investments, was able to acquire control of the company after unhappy shareholders pressured Tribune to undertake a lengthy review of its options. – less