And calls to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which owns a stake in The Post and has recently been buying newspaper companies at low prices, went unreturned on Wednesday and Thursday.

Venetoulis, who once owned weekly newspapers such as the Towson Times and who still works in publishing, cautioned that there's no guarantee a local group would purchase the newspaper even if Tribune decides to sell it individually. Papers across the country are experimenting with new business models — from online subscription fees to less-than-daily publication— but no one knows yet what will work, he said.

"There may well be continued interest in bringing the paper under local ownership, but there's not certainty in that because of the nature — the new nature — of the business," Venetoulis said.

A leader of The Sun's largest employee union also pointed to partial employee ownership as a possibility. The Portland Newspaper Guild sought investor groups to buy the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram in 2008, ultimately negotiating an employee stock ownership plan to get an ownership stake.

The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, which represents many Sun workers, said it hasn't talked with potential buyers yet. But Cet Parks, the guild's executive director, pointed to Maine as "a template for where we could go."

The guild held a strategy meeting Wednesday to prepare for Tribune's exit from bankruptcy — expected by the end of the month — and the possibility of a sale.

Larry Grimes, president of W.B. Grimes & Co., a Gaithersburg media broker, said he thought The Sun's "pretty good circulation" and dominant position among local media might bring interest from private equity firms.

Still, there's value and then there's value, which is why he suggested Tribune sell its papers' real estate holdings separately.

"The real estate is worth a lot more than the papers," Grimes said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Eileen Ambrose contributed to this article.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

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