Sun-Times’ future hangs in the balance

Things are starting to get desperate at Wrapports.

As reported by Crain’s Friday, the owner of the Sun-Times is giving a group led by former Alderman Edward Eisendath until today to submit a bid to buy the paper. If not, it would pursue a merger with tronc, as planned. If the Justice Department blocks the deal, Wrapports says it would close the paper.

Tronc owns rival the Chicago Tribune, and also owns numerous suburban newspapers it bought from Wrapports several years ago, including the Daily Southtown.

The Justice Department urged Wrapports to seek other bidders other than tronc for the paper. So far, there have been few takers, mainly due to the operating losses the paper has racked up.

Wrapports had been losing money on the paper for years – $4.5 million annually, according to Crain’s.

“If they’re not going to be ready on Monday, we’re moving on,” said Brad Bulkley, an investment banker handling negotiations for Wrapports.

This basically means the Eisendath bid may be the only way to keep Chicago a pure two-paper town. If tronc is allowed to buy its rival, tronc pledged to keep the operations separate. If not, the paper could close – leaving Chicago the largest market in the country with just one newspaper serving the entire metropolitan area.

Meanwhile, millionaire and restructionist Bill Brandt said he was investing nearly $2 million of his money into Eisendath’s bid to keep the Sun-Times alive. In an interview with Crain’s, Brandt said his purchase was a “civic duty”. Crain’s also note Brandt’s feelings for the rival Chicago Tribune are basically “fit to only line a bird cage”.

Ouch.

What we’re seeing here is another media company using what we call the “doomsday scenario” card – something we know all too well here in Chicago. It was used numerous times in the last decade when the Chicago Transit Authority threatened service cuts if it didn’t get money from the state government. In recent years, Fox and Univision each used the doomsday scenario card – threatening to move its entertainment programming to cable if Aereo – a company specializing in using dime-size antennas to view and record live programming on Internet-connected devices without consent from the broadcast networks or copyright holders. The Supreme Court ruled against the now-defunct company, which subsequently filed for bankruptcy.

The situation comes at a time as the press has come under attack by the White House and President Trump specifically, with the commander-in-chief slamming the Fifth Estate on Twitter every other day, including the New York Times and Washington Post, often labeling them and others “fake news”. Brandt told Crain’s a free press hasn’t been more important in the current political environment.

The dilemma also comes as Sinclair Broadcasting – a company known for its conservative leanings, is set to take over Chicago-based Tribune Media, owner of WGN-TV, WGN-AM, and television stations in 41 other markets. With Sinclair based in suburban Baltimore, the potential loss of the Sun-Times not only closes the door on a newspaper with over 100 years of history – it also would cost Chicago yet another locally-owned media voice at a time it cannot afford to lose more of.

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