Are the Chandlers and Tribune Co. ready to reconcile?
A Wall Street Journal report online Thursday said the two sides, at each other's throats earlier this summer, are at the bargaining table.
At the very least, Tribune and its largest shareholder bloc, which in June called the company's strategy "disastrous," are "on a more constructive path," said one source.
This is evident in what happened at the July 19 Tribune board meeting when directors discussed separate inquiries from Los Angeles billionaires Eli Broad, Ron Burkle and David Geffen about buying the Los Angeles Times, the crown jewel of Times Mirror, which Tribune acquired in 2000.
Representatives of the Chandler family, the Times Mirror heirs, joined the rest of the directors in unanimously telling Tribune Chairman and Chief Executive Dennis FitzSimons to respond to each that "at this time we are not prepared to discuss the possible transaction described in your letter," but "if our perspective changes, we will contact you."
In this there are indications the two sides are attempting to find middle ground. First there is the unanimity of the board, which had split over Tribune's plan to repurchase shares, with the Chandlers' three representatives urging a breakup or sale of the company. Then there is the apparent softening of Tribune's previous insistence the Times would not be sold.
The Chandlers, unable to thwart the buyback, must have realized they wound up solidifying board support for FitzSimons, not undermining it.
But the failure of the buyback to give the company's stock a lasting boost means Tribune has to be open to at least consider other potential strategies, even if they stop short of the breakup or company sale the Chandlers so loudly advocated in June.
Until they can unwind their complex partnerships, Tribune and the Chandlers will have to coexist like conjoined twins. When one feels pain, the other suffers too.
From such shared discomfort--in this case the economic challenges facing all traditional media outfits, exacerbated by the fact the Times Mirror deal has thus far failed to produce the predicted benefits--comes the incentive to find mutual relief.
They may not agree on a plan. They may not even like each other. But each has more to lose than gain from a public airing of grievances and the damage it does, especially on Wall Street, where Tribune's stock languishes.
Neither a spokesman for Chandlers nor Tribune, which owns the Chicago Tribune and 10 other daily newspapers as well as two dozen TV stations, would comment. Reached at his California home, board member Jeffrey Chandler declined to discuss Tribune.
But one of those who wants to buy the Los Angeles Times has confided to others that he sees the Chandlers as key to prying the paper loose; it's not that they care about their birthright so much as they wouldn't mind the cash.
A problem for the historically tax-averse family, as well as Tribune, would be capital gains taxes such a transaction could produce, however. And this has been one of the arguments made for not divesting such long-held and lucrative properties.
The debut next month of the CW, the new network born of the ashes of the failed WB (in which Tribune owned a money-losing share) and UPN, has been cited by management as a reason for Tribune not to do anything major yet with its broadcast division. Fifteen Tribune stations, including WGN-Ch. 9 in Chicago, are aligned with the new venture, and FitzSimons has said he expects them to get a boost as a result.
Furthermore, FitzSimons himself is recovering from prostate cancer surgery this week. He expects to be back on the job full time before the end of the month. But whether that will slow the bridging of differences with the Chandlers is uncertain.
Tribune and the Chandlers have been together only six years, but they're like an old married couple. An abrupt divorce at this point would be too expensive, so they're just going to have to work it out.
Keeping tabs: Several readers of Waukegan's News Sun disagreed with Sun-Times News Group exec Michael Cooke's assertion in this space Wednesday that the formerly broadsheet Lake County paper was now a tabloid in size, not style.
Most often cited were the headlines calling Andrea Yates "psycho," though also mentioned was the story on how to choose a cosmetic dentist illustrated by ... a big photo of a woman in a bikini.
Bickering blocs at Tribune Co. may work it out
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