Auction of Freedom Communications assets swings in favour of Tribune Publishing

The Sydney News.Net Friday 18th March, 2016

auction of freedom communications assets swings in favour of tribune publishing

NEW YORK - Tribune Publishing Co., through its subsidiary Orange County Media, LLC, has emerged the successful bidder to acquire substantially all of the assets of Freedom Communications, Inc. at a public bankruptcy auction that went on till late Wednesday night.


Under the terms of the bid, Tribune Publishing, owner of the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers, has agreed to pay $56 million in cash for the business of Freedom Communications and its real estate in Santa Ana, California and Riverside, California, the company said in a statement Thursday.

Tribune Publishing's successful bid is subject to bankruptcy court approval at a hearing that is currently scheduled for Monday, March 21, 2016. The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions.

Others in the race to acquire assets to bankrupt Freedom Communications, the owner of the Orange County Register, included an investor group led by Freedom's current managers and Digital First Media which owns nine Southern California newspapers and websites, including the Los Angeles Daily News.

The acquisition would mark a deep expansion in Southern California for Tribune Publishing Co.

"The successful bid for the business of Freedom Communications will allow the Orange County Register and the Press-Enterprise to continue providing a distinct local voice in their communities and deliver premium news and information to consumers across Southern California," said Justin Dearborn, CEO of Tribune Publishing said in a statement..

The company is looking to extend its reach in Southern California and save money by streamlining some business operations at a time when newspapers struggle to remain profitable. As part of its expansion plans, the company last year bought the San Diego Union-Tribune,

Freedom Communications sought bankruptcy protection three years after the Register embarked on an aggressive expansion of print journalism that included starting a Los Angeles spinoff and buying the Riverside-based newspaper for $27 million.

Both Digital First and Tribune saw acquisitions as a way to expand their territory in suburban Southern California. Digital First had submitted a stalking bid of $45.5 million for the newspapers that did not include assumption of Freedom's pension obligations.

Los Angeles Times reported that an insider group, which includes Freedom co-owner and Chief Executive Rich Mirman and Orange County developer Mike Harrah, withdrew from the process Wednesday evening ahead of the auction complaining about the fairness of the process, including how their bid was valued, according to an email from their attorney.

The attorney, Leonard Shulman, said the group is considering whether to protest the auction.

The Justice Department has meanwhile filed a civil antitrust lawsuit seeking to block the acquisition by the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, arguing that such a move would give Tribune Publishing a monopoly over newspaper sales in the area.

In a letter sent to a Freedom attorney on Tuesday, the US Justice Department's antitrust division indicated objections to Tribune Publishing acquiring Freedom's assets.

"The division believes that the acquisition of Freedom assets by Tribune Publishing Company poses a serious risk of harming newspaper readers and advertisers in Orange County and Riverside County," Assistant Atty. Gen. William Baer, head of the antitrust division, wrote in the letter.

A Tribune Publishing spokeswoman said the company is prepared to defend the legality of the sale.

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