At the end of 2007, real estate tycoon Sam Zell took control of Tribune Co. in a deal that promised to re-energize the media conglomerate. But the company, which owns The Baltimore Sun, struggled under the huge debt burden the deal created, and less than a year later, it filed for bankruptcy.
On Dec. 31, after four years, Tribune Co. finally emerged from court protection under new ownership, but at a heavy cost. The company's value was diminished, its reputation was tarnished and its ability to respond to market opportunities during its long bankruptcy was constrained.
Tribune Co.'s bankruptcy saga began as an era of superheated Wall Street deal-making fueled by cheap money was coming to an end. The company's tale is emblematic of the American financial crisis itself, in which a seemingly insatiable appetite for speculative risk using exotic investment instruments helped trigger an economic collapse of historic proportions.
Tribune reporters Michael Oneal and Steve Mills, in a four-part series that begins today, tell the story of Tribune Co.'s journey into and through bankruptcy, throwing a spotlight on the key decisions and missed opportunities that marked a perilous time in the history of the company, the media industry and the economy.