Real estate mogul takes over Tribune Co.

(AP)            

 
Billionaire Sam Zell (pictured above) completed a takeover of media giant Tribune Co., in the latest shakeup in the struggling US newspaper sector.

Zell, who led the private equity buyout announced earlier this year estimated to be worth $13 billion including debt, assumed the roles of chairman of the board and chief executive officer, effective immediately.

The Chicago-based company, which owns The Los Angeles Times and New York Newsday among other assets, has been rocked by a sharp drop in advertising revenue and a shift away from traditional newspapers.

Zell will take over the group that grew out of the Chicago Tribune into a large national media empire but now faces challenges in the digital age.

Newspaper circulation has been steadily declining by about three per cent a year and nearly 4,000 newsroom jobs have been lost since the beginning of the decade, according to analysts.

In an interview with the Chicago daily, Zell said he would take an active role in operations of the media group but not give up his real estate activities.

"This is not a career change for me," Zell said, adding that he will remain as head of his investment firm, Equity Group Investments.

He also said he will not remain as Tribune CEO indefinitely "but this is a very important transaction of extraordinary relevance."

The move comes days after media tycoon Rupert Murdoch completed his acquisition of Dow Jones & Co. and its prized The Wall Street Journal in a move strengthening the empire of Murdoch's vast News Corp.

Tribune Co. also owns the Baltimore Sun, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel and Hartford Courant as well as 23 television stations and the Chicago Cubs baseball team. The company is planning to sell the baseball club.

Zell, ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the wealthiest Americans with an estimated net worth of $6 billion, invested about $315 million under deal. Other funding includes an employee stock plan that will be financed with new debt.

"Zell has no real experience in the print journalism or publishing business, but will hopefully keep himself surrounded by experts in the field," said Beth Gaston Moon at Schaeffer's Investment Service.

Zell's fortune has been made largely in real estate, and he was the seller in the massive $39-billion deal for Equity Office Properties sold to Blackstone Group earlier this year.
 
Dennis FitzSimons resigned as Tribune CEO Wednesday, a post he held since 2003, after the expansion that brought the Los Angeles-based Times Mirror Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times, to the company's assets.

The new eight-member board will include Jeffrey Berg, chairman and chief executive officer of International Creative Management; Brian Greenspun, president and editor of the Las Vegas Sun; William Pate, chief investment officer of Equity Group Investments; and Maggie Wilderotter, chairman and chief executive officer of Citizens Communications.

For Tribune Co. the deal marks a new chapter for a company started in 1847 with the birth of the Chicago Tribune. It became a publicly traded company only in 1983.

In 2000, Tribune Co. bought the Times Mirror group, including the flagship Los Angeles Times, for $8.3 billion in what was then the largest acquisition in the newspaper industry.

But the company has struggled with the loss of advertising revenues to online media including Google. And in the past years its shareholders, including the Chandler family trusts that originally owned the Los Angeles Times, have been reportedly dissatisfied. (AFP)

 

 
 
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