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May 21, 2021

Tribune shareholders approve Alden buyout of Hartford Courant, other U.S. newspapers

hartford courant credit union HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper The Hartford Courant’s former headquarters at 285 Broad St.

The Hartford Courant, Connecticut’s largest daily newspaper, is headed toward new ownership.

According to a report from the Chicago Tribune, investors in Tribune Publishing Co., which owns the Courant and several other highly visible U.S. publications, voted Friday morning to approve the company’s sale to Alden Global Capital, a New York-based hedge fund that has become notorious for buying up financially distressed newspapers and then aggressively cutting costs, including staff.

The Chicago Tribune, which is one of the Tribune-owned publications, said the deal is expected to close by June 30.

Alden in February offered to purchase the Chicago-based media conglomerate for $17.25 per share, or about $630 million, and Tribune ultimately counseled its shareholders to vote in favor of the deal after considering and then turning down a longshot rival bid that could have set up the company’s newspapers as nonprofit entities.

The Hartford Courant Guild had encouraged Tribune shareholders to reject the deal, criticizing Alden as being more interested in squeezing profits from the titles it controls than in fostering high-quality journalism. The guild’s leaders had hoped the newspaper would come under local ownership, arguing that such an arrangement would strengthen the civic commitment to the institution’s work.

Those hopes were not unfounded.

According to documents filed by Tribune with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, an unnamed bidder approached the company in July 2020 with a proposal to acquire the Courant and all of its assets. Tribune Publishing said it responded to the would-be buyer’s interest, but the two parties “were unable to agree on a confidentiality agreement to engage in discussions.”

Additionally, rumors of a group of Hartford business leaders joining forces to buy the Courant made the rounds last month, but the group’s existence was never officially confirmed.

In addition to the Hartford Courant and Chicago Tribune, Tribune Publishing also owns The Baltimore Sun, New York Daily News, Florida’s Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel, Virginia’s Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot, and The Morning Call of eastern Pennsylvania.

Tribune briefly entertained an offer from Maryland hotel executive Stewart Bainum Jr. and Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, who framed their bid as an effort to preserve and strengthen media institutions central to the health of American democracy.

Doing business as Newslight LLC, the partners initially offered to buy Tribune for $18.50 per share, or $680 million, higher than Alden’s proposed price.

But a special committee set up by Tribune to negotiate the offers ultimately stuck by the Alden deal, noting the agreement put forward by Bainum and Wyss was non-binding and could take longer to complete than a transaction with Alden.

Wyss subsequently abandoned the venture, and Tribune halted all talks with Newslight.

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