Tribune buys suburban newspapers from Sun-Times — and Sun-Times buys more time

Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune

It’s official: Tribune Publishing Co. announced Friday it has acquired all 38 suburban publications owned by the Sun-Times parent company and will continue printing and distributing the Sun-Times daily newspaper under a new long-term agreement with Wrapports LLC.

Terms of the agreement, first reported here October 21, were not disclosed. Sources said negotiations to finalize the deal ran late into the night Thursday in order to meet the goal of a November 1 deadline.

Tribune Publishing paid cash for the suburban newspapers, insiders said, which include the Aurora Beacon-News, Elgin Courier-News, Lake County News-Sun, Naperville Sun, Post-Tribune in Northwest Indiana, SouthtownStar and the 32 Pioneer Press weekly newspapers. They now become part of Chicago Tribune Media Group, which operates the Chicago Tribune, RedEye, Chicago magazine and Hoy, among other brands.

“We’re excited and thrilled to add these iconic titles to the Chicago Tribune Media Group,” Tony Hunter, chief executive officer of Chicago Tribune Media Group, said in an interview Friday. “We believe it’s an opportunity for growth. We’re looking forward to growing the hyperlocal content we provide to consumers, growing the number of solutions that we can provide to clients, and frankly, just growth in general.

“It’s a great deal for us, and we believe a great deal for these titles. We believe they are already good, strong brands in their markets. We think we’ll enhance their capabilities, especially on the digital front, and we also believe that there’s other scalable solutions that we have done at Tribune Publishing that can help them do their jobs better. We believe they’re in great position already, and we will make them better.

“Our main priority in the short term is to continue to provide great service and content to our consumers and clients, and also to make this seamless to our employees. We’re thrilled to add these talented employees to our company. In the near term, we believe it should be seamless to our news employees and seamless to our consumers,” Hunter said.

Bob Fleck, executive vice president of advertising for Chicago Tribune Media Group, will oversee the acquisitions in his new role as publisher and general manager of suburban operations.

Fleck said the company will continue to publish TribLocal suburban inserts in the Chicago Tribune as well. “We think we really can bring together the great things that are happening with TribLocal as well as what’s happening with the newly acquired suburban properties, and make it better for all,” he said. “There’s no plan to abandon the TribLocal strategy. We believe this is just going to make everything stronger.”

Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Sun-Times

The Sun-Times’ current printing and distribution agreements with Tribune Publishing, in place since 2011 and 2007, respectively, were due to end this spring. While the new deal assures short-term life for of the Sun-Times, it leaves Wrapports a shell of its former self, with only the Sun-Times daily and free weekly Reader in its print portfolio. Earlier this week, Wrapports announced plans to launch Sun Times Network with websites and apps delivering content from multiple sources to 70 cities.

“This transaction allows Wrapports to focus on our international digital strategy and to financially strengthen the Chicago Sun-Times,” Wrapports chairman Michael Ferro Jr. said in a statement. “We will invest in the Sun Times Network and Cube Network while ensuring the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper remains journalistically independent and on financially sound footing for many years to come."

(My blog is published independently under a licensing agreement with Chicago Tribune Media Group.)


Here is the text of the Tribune Publishing press release:

Tribune Publishing Co. Acquires Wrapports Chicago Suburban Publications;
Secures Long-Term Print & Delivery Contract For Chicago Sun-Times

 Suburban Chicago Dailies, Weeklies Become Integral Part of Chicago Tribune Media Group;  Bob Fleck Appointed Publisher & General Manager of Suburban Operations

CHICAGO, Oct. 31, 2014 – Tribune Publishing Company today announced the acquisition of six daily and 32 weekly suburban news and information brands from Wrapports, LLC. The acquired publications – which include the Aurora Beacon-News, The Elgin Courier-News, the Lake County News-Sun, The Naperville Sun, the Post-Tribune in Northwest Indiana, The SouthtownStar and the 32 Pioneer Press weekly newspapers – will become part of the diversified portfolio of the Chicago Tribune Media Group (CTMG), which operates the Chicago Tribune, RedEye, Chicago magazine, Hoy and other Chicago-based media brands. The acquired papers have collective circulations of 72,000 daily, 87,000 Sunday and 52,000 weekly. 

In addition to acquiring these suburban newspapers, CTMG today announced a long-term agreement to continue printing and distributing the Chicago Sun-Times, also owned by Wrapports. CTMG has printed the Sun-Times since 2011 and distributed the newspaper since 2007. This new agreement solidifies the continuation of this key commercial relationship for the Company. 

Terms of the acquisition and printing-and-distribution deals were not disclosed. 

“This acquisition represents an important step forward for Tribune Publishing Company and the Chicago Tribune Media Group,” said Jack Griffin, CEO of Tribune Publishing. “It supports our stated strategy of leveraging our existing infrastructure, resources and management teams to drive growth for our Company. Additionally, the new print and distribution agreement for the Chicago Sun-Times continues an important commercial relationship that supports our stated strategy of revenue diversification.” 

To oversee the newly acquired publications, Tribune Publishing has appointed a senior Chicago-based executive with deep local roots and expertise. Bob Fleck, who most recently served as EVP of Advertising, spent 22 years at the Chicago Tribune in numerous managerial capacities. He assumes his role as Publisher & General Manager immediately and will report to CTMG CEO Tony Hunter. 

“We have long admired the strong commitment to journalism and deep community ties exemplified by these suburban dailies and weeklies,” Hunter said. “With the addition of these great titles, Chicago Tribune Media Group is significantly expanding its portfolio and geographic footprint with an unrivaled suite of print and digital solutions. Bob Fleck is the perfect person to lead our efforts.” 

Added Fleck: “We look forward to strengthening these great news brands that first and foremost serve their local communities with news and information that cannot be found anywhere else. As a lifelong Chicagoan, I understand the value of these publications to the residents and businesses in each of these vibrant communities and intend to build on that with the team.” 

The acquisition of the suburban Chicago papers is the fourth in a series completed by Tribune Publishing this year. Previous acquisitions include:

  • Carroll County (Md.) Times and Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. from Landmark Communications, and which are now part of the Baltimore Sun Media Group;
  • City Paper in Baltimore from Times-Shamrock Communications. The paper is operated as an independent weekly under The Baltimore Sun Media Group; and
  • Reminder Media’s 15 weekly news publications in Connecticut, the largest collection in the state, which are now part of the Hartford Courant Media Group. 

In addition to the six daily publications that will become part of Chicago Tribune Media Group, the 32 Pioneer Press weeklies include: Barrington Courier Review; Buffalo Grove Countryside; Deerfield Review; The Doings Clarendon Hills Edition; The Doings Hinsdale Edition; The Doings La Grange Edition; The Doings Oak Brook Edition; The Doings Weekly Edition; The Doings Western Springs Edition; Elmwood Park Elm Leaves; Evanston Review; River Forest Forest Leaves; Franklin Park Herald-Journal; Glencoe News; Glenview Announcements; Highland Park News; Lake Forester; Lake Zurich Courier; Libertyville Review; Lincolnshire Review; Lincolnwood Review; Morton Grove Champion; Mundelein Review; Niles Herald-Spectator; Norridge-Harwood Heights News; Northbrook Star; Oak Park Oak Leaves; Park Ridge Herald-Advocate; Skokie Review; Vernon Hills Review; Wilmette Life and Winnetka Talk.


Here is the text of the Wrapports press release:


Plan for Digital Push, Investment in Chicago Sun-Times newspaper

CHICAGO (October 31, 2014)-- In a continued commitment to its new Sun Times Network digital initiative and to reinvesting in the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, Wrapports LLC has sold 38 non-core media titles to Tribune Publishing Company.

“This transaction allows Wrapports to focus on our international digital strategy and to financially strengthen the Chicago Sun-Times,” said Wrapports Chairman Michael Ferro. “We will invest in the Sun Times Network and Cube Network while ensuring the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper remains journalistically independent and on financially sound footing for many years to come."

Tribune and Wrapports have also renegotiated a print and distribution deal for the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper. Terms of both deals have not been announced.

Earlier this week, Wrapports announced the launch of the Sun Times Network, a new mobile-first app network in 70 U.S. cities featuring original content from Chicago Sun-Times reporters and columnists and original and curated news and content in each local market.

Wrapports recently completed a $14 million round of funding for the Sun Times Network, including an investment from a company controlled by Irish media and technology investor Denis O’Brien, the chairman and founder of wireless phone company Digicel.

The Sun Times Network and all 70 sites and apps can be accessed at beginning today.

“This transaction and our aggressive digital push will expand the Sun Times brand and ensure the Chicago Sun-Times is self-sustaining and financially healthy for the committed journalists who cover Chicagoland for one of the country’s great newspapers, ” said Wrapports CEO Timothy P. Knight.

The 143 editorial and sales employees of the newspapers--which include Pioneer Press, SouthtownStar, Post-Tribune, Aurora Beacon News, Elgin Courier News, Naperville Sun, Lake County News Sun--will become Tribune employees.

Bulkley Capital represented Wrapports LLC in connection with the transaction.