Rival Chicago newspapers are poised to come under the same ownership, after the parent company of the Chicago Tribune announced its intent to purchase the parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Both newspapers have stressed that Chicago will remain a two-newspaper city, with the Sun-Times maintaining a separate newsroom that would operate independently.
The Sun-Times carried a front-page letter to its readers, advertisers and employees on Monday, explaining that the company has received a nonbinding letter of intent from Tronc, the Tribune's parent company, to purchase assets from Wrapports Holdings, which owns the Sun-Times.
On Tuesday, the Sun-Times also printed an advertisement for other prospective buyers announcing its intent to sell. If no other candidates come forward, the deal between Tronc and Wrapports could close as soon June 1. Terms of the deal have not been finalized.
The Justice Department's antitrust division says it is investigating the possible acquisition, and will "closely monitor the sale process for the Chicago Sun-Times, including whether any other viable buyer expresses interest."
Last year, an attempt by Tribune Publishing, which was later renamed Tronc, to acquire the Orange County Register fell through after a judge issued a temporary restraining order during an antitrust case filed by the Justice Department.
A report from the Tribune suggests the news may be bittersweet for Chicago residents:
"In a city where one could once buy as many as 12 daily papers, the news that Chicago would still have two dailies — though under a single owner — was sure to be greeted with a mixture of relief and a certain resignation.
"But not surprise."
The two newspapers already have a business relationship. "The Chicago Tribune has handled all of the Sun-Times' printing and distribution for the past several years," the Sun-Times wrote.
Michael Ferro, who leads Tronc, told the Tribune last year that he wanted to acquire the Sun-Times:
"Do I believe someday that in order to help the Sun-Times survive, if there was a way to combine them, but (that) allowed the Sun-Times to have complete editorial independence, like our other papers do? I do see that someday, and why not? Why can't we share financial costs and things like that, but let them run on their own? That's how it would be."
The Sun-Times said in its letter to readers that it initially sought "alternative arrangements" with other media companies. "After those efforts were exhausted, it became clear that a business combination with Tronc made the most sense, especially since Tronc and Wrapports already have some business ties."
The letter stressed the challenging business landscape for media companies:
"The Sun-Times, like many other metropolitan news operations, continues to face enormous challenges in an industry roiled by changes in the marketplace. The investors and board members of Wrapports have been committed to keeping a second media voice in Chicago alive and thriving. Success in digital media requires a national platform that can make significant investments across products and services. We believe an ownership that can bring substantial digital resources can help and is the best path for the Sun-Times to succeed long term."
According to the Chicago Historical Society, the Sun-Times traces its history to 1844, with the launch of the Chicago Evening Journal. It was relaunched in 1929 as the Daily Illustrated Times. In 1948, the Times merged with the Chicago Sun to become the Chicago Sun-Times.