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Tribune Co. selling TV station in Atlanta


CHICAGO -- Tribune Co. said yesterday that it is selling Atlanta's WATL-TV to Gannett Co. for $180 million, its first transaction since announcing last week that it would unload at least $500 million in assets to help fund a major share-repurchase effort.

WATL Vice President and General Manager Steve Carver, whose responsibilities within Tribune include oversight of Chicago's WGN-AM 720, said he will remain at the Atlanta TV station through the transition to its new owners, which needs regulatory approval. A Tribune spokesman said the Chicago media company hopes Carver will stay with the company.

"This [sale] reflects an important aspect of the stock-repurchase strategy that we communicated last week," said Tribune Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dennis J. FitzSimons. "Our goal is to generate additional shareholder value through improved operating performance, asset sales and disciplined repayment of debt over the next several years. The sale of WATL further demonstrates our commitment to delivering value for shareholders."

The company, which owns the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and The Sun, plans to buy back 75 million shares at a cost of at least $2 billion. The plan includes borrowing money and cutting $200 million in costs over the next two years in addition to the sale of some assets.

Asked last week what constitutes core company assets, FitzSimons described Tribune as "a major-market media company." The sale of WATL takes Tribune out of the nation's No. 9 television market, where it bought a minority interest in the station in 1995 and took full ownership in 2000.

Gannett owns another Atlanta station, WXIA-TV, an NBC affiliate.

Phil Rosenthal writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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