Sun-Times, Reader staffers oppose sale to tronc: 'No news monopoly'

Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Tribune

Editorial employees of the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Reader aren’t going along with the proposed sale of their company to tronc without a fight.

Staffers represented by the Chicago News Guild are seeking to block the takeover by the parent company of the rival Chicago Tribune — or at least extend the deadline for other potential bidders to come forward.

Wednesday marks the close of a 15-day window to submit initial offers, according to an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division by Wrapports Holdings LLC, which owns the daily Sun-Times and alternative weekly Reader. The Antitrust Division said it would “closely monitor” the sale process.

In announcing its intention May 15 to buy Wrapports, tronc said it would operate the Sun-Times with a separate newsroom and “help it maintain its independent voice” if the deal goes through. But Guild officials said they are skeptical that the Sun-Times would remain a viable competitor to the Tribune. They also fear massive job losses at the Sun-Times and the Reader leading to the demise of both.

“We want to be certain that competition and diverse editorial viewpoints continue to be offered in one of the best cities for news in our country,” Darel Jevens, Sun-Times entertainment editor and co-chair of the Guild’s bargaining unit, said in a statement. “We are concerned that, whatever its intentions, the Tribune will have no long-term incentive to keep these publications going once it gets control of them.”

In addition to launching an online petition to the Justice Department seeking additional time for other buyers to prepare bids, Guild employees established a “No Chicago News Monopoly” campaign on social media, including a Facebook page. As of Monday, more than 1,000 signatures were collected on the petition.

The Guild also bought an ad in Crain’s Chicago Business urging that the Sun-Times and the Reader be kept out of tronc hands. “Right now the Chicago Tribune wants to purchase both titles. We think that means the end of our publications and jobs,” the ad read in part. “We’d rather see a buyer who will support vigorous, independent journalism in this town while exploring new revenue streams.”

Philip Montoro, music editor of the Reader and leader of its bargaining unit, said in a statement: “Fifteen days is an unreasonably small window to offer other buyers. The Sun-Times and the Reader are too important to civic discourse in Chicago — they can't simply be handed over to their chief competitor. Wrapports seems to think a tronc deal will be quick and easy, but we want a good deal, not a fast one — a deal that will be healthier for independent Chicago journalism and the communities that rely on it.”

Jim Kirk, publisher and editor of the Sun-Times, declined to comment. Sources said at least two outside groups had made inquiries since Wrapports announced sale plans, but it was unclear whether they were seriously interested.

Chicago Tribune Media Group has been distributing the Sun-Times since 2007 and printing it since 2011.

In addition to the Tribune, tronc’s media properties in the Chicago area include RedEye Chicago, Chicago magazine, Splash, Hoy, Daily Southtown, Aurora Beacon-News, Elgin Courier-News, Naperville Sun, Lake County News-Sun, Northwest Indiana Post-Tribune, Naperville magazine, Metromix and 33 Pioneer Press suburban weekly newspapers.

The company’s other metro dailies include the Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Hartford Courant, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., and the Daily Press in Virginia.

Chicago News Guild