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Tribune hires bankers to consider sale of newspapers 

Tribune Co. parent company Chicago Tribune has hired investment bankers consider offers buy company's newspapers. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Tribune Co., the parent company of the Chicago Tribune, has hired investment bankers to consider offers to buy the company's newspapers. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 28, 2013 6:37AM

Chicago media giant Tribune Co. confirmed Tuesday that it has hired two investment banks to field offers for its newspapers.

The company said its hiring of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Evercore Partners Inc. was not tantamount to putting the papers up for sale. Tribune, which emerged from bankruptcy at the end of last year, said it has received unsolicited offers for its papers and wants help evaluating them.

“We want to know who the pretenders are and who the contenders are,” one insider said.

A statement from the company put it more diplomatically. “There is a lot of interest in our newspapers, which we haven’t solicited,” said company spokesman Gary Weitman. “Hiring outside financial advisers will help us determine whether that interest is credible, allow us to consider all of our options, and fulfill our fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders and employees.”

Potential buyers for the company’s eight daily newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, are many. Economics in the newspaper business remain challenging, but prices have fallen and the ego gratification in being a publisher can still be high.

Rupert Murdoch, who is splitting his News Corp. into separate broadcast and print companies, is known to covet the Times for its influence in the entertainment industry. His interest could extend to the Chicago Tribune as well.

The latter move, however, might require that the Federal Communications Commission relax rules banning one person or entity from owning a newspaper and TV station in the same city. Chicago’s WFLD-Channel 32 is a unit of Murdoch’s Fox network.

A partial rollback of the so-called cross-ownership rule has been suggested at the FCC but hasn’t come to a vote.

Wrapports LLC, which owns the Chicago Sun-Times, is thought to be interested in bidding on the Chicago Tribune and related assets, including its printing plant. The Sun-Times is the plant’s largest customer, with a $70 million-a-year printing contract that sources said pushes the Chicago Tribune into profitability.

Wrapports Chairman Michael Ferro Jr. and Chief Executive Officer Timothy Knight could not be reached for comment.

Tribune Co. in January named Peter Liguori as its CEO. Liguori is a former executive of Fox Broadcasting and Discovery Communications. His appointment, and the broadcasting and entertainment backgrounds on the company’s board, were signals that the post-bankruptcy Tribune would focus on the healthy side of its business, Chicago’s WGN-TV and 22 other TV stations.

But Liguori has clearly said within the company that he isn’t interested in a “fire sale” of the papers and would consider only offers that match what he deems to be the full value of the individual titles.

Tribune emerged from its four-year bankruptcy under the control of chief creditors Oaktree Capital Management LP; Angelo, Gordon & Co. and JPMorgan, whose vice chairman, Jimmy Lee, is handling the potential newspaper sales.

CNBC first reported the hiring of the investment banks.

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