Suburban newspapers poised for change if sold by Sun-Times
Report: Sun-Times in talks to sell chain of publications to Tribune Publishing
A group of long-standing suburban newspapers could be poised for more changes amid speculation that owner Wrapports LLC is in talks to sell them to Tribune Publishing.
The deal could include the (Aurora) Beacon-News, the (Elgin) Courier-News, the Lake County News-Sun, the Naperville Sun, the Northwest Indiana Post-Tribune, the SouthtownStar, and the 32 weekly newspapers formerly published by the Pioneer Press.
Robert Feder, who blogs about Chicago media for the Chicago Tribune Media Group, broke the story citing unnamed sources, and the Tribune followed up with a story on its website citing Feder. Wrapports LLC, the parent of the Chicago Sun-Times, did not respond to the reports, and Tribune Publishing did not confirm a sale.
"We do not comment on rumor or speculation," said Tribune Publishing spokesman Matt Hutchison.
If a sale occurred, it would be the latest change for the venerable newspapers. The Beacon-News, for instance, traces its history to 1846, according to the Chicago Historical Society. The Sun-Times bought the weekly Pioneer Press newspapers in 1989 and the former Copley newspapers in Aurora, Elgin, Joliet, Waukegan and Naperville in 2000, converting them to tabloids and eventually closing most suburban offices and moving operations to Chicago.
Wrapports announced last year it was selling the Joliet Herald-News to Dixon-based newspaper publisher B.F. Shaw Printing Co.
Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik said she was sorry to hear the rumors of more changes, since the News-Sun has had a longtime presence in her village.
"The Tribune has made occasional efforts over the past decade to develop a local community section but has always pulled out," Kovarik said. "I hope this time the acquisition represents a commitment and chance for in-depth reporting on local issues by the Tribune."
Kovarik said she's "very concerned" about potentially reduced competition in news coverage in Gurnee, which is covered by the Daily Herald. She added that reporters who cover a town bring a lot of value to local residents by providing accurate information in proper context.
"I personally feel multiple news sources are a very good thing for the community. More perspectives give readers a balanced view of a story," she said.
Longtime Naperville Mayor George Pradel said he understands market pressures are in play and there is a need for newspapers to operate efficiently, but he hopes the ownership change will not diminish the quality or quantity of news attention given to his city.
"I would be concerned that we maintain the good coverage that we get here," Pradel said.
There was no indication what the Tribune might do with the newspapers if a sale is finalized.
The company likely would keep the newspapers operating but reconsider the number of Trib Local editions, said Owen Youngman, Knight professor of digital media strategy at Northwestern University in Evanston.
"Clearly, the printing and distribution portion of the business is what Wrapports was looking to exit," Youngman said. The Tribune already provides delivery and printing services for the suburban newspapers, Youngman said.
"I would expect decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis governed by advertiser and reader interest in the various titles," Youngman said. "The paper in Lake County, for example, doesn't have the benefit of proximity to the booming, high-tech Aurora-Naperville market, and it will need to be managed differently."
Such a sale would likely require Federal Trade Commission approval, Youngman said. While such consolidation isn't unusual, it could raise "justifiable concerns" that too much market power would be added in the area for the Tribune, he said.
Wrapports' suburban newspapers include some Sun-Times content, such as sports and columns, and the Sun-Times includes numerous news stories and columns from the suburban papers. If a sale is completed, Wrapports would continue to publish only the Sun-Times and the Reader, a free weekly, Feder reported.
Rumor of a sale was an "interesting development but not entirely surprising," considering the Tribune Company has made several small newspaper purchases to add to its print portfolio, said Douglas K. Ray, chairman, president, publisher and CEO of Arlington Heights-based Paddock Publications Inc., parent of the Daily Herald, Reflejos and the Business Ledger publications.
"From our perspective, we will continue to do what we have done for decades -- create a suburban marketplace of news, information and commerce," Ray said. "That is why the Daily Herald has prospered at a time when others have come and gone."
Ray noted the other suburban newspapers and Chicago newspapers have gone through changing ownership in recent years. The Daily Herald remains the cornerstone of family-owned Paddock Publications.
"In my view, that has been one of the problems of the newspaper industry -- the lack of local focus, local caring, commitment to the community over time. In this, a time of change, of digital transformation, a strong, local news source like the Daily Herald is more important than ever," Ray said.
Ray said if the deal goes through, "we will just have a different, big city competitor, and in the end I am confident we will win out because of the strength of the Daily Herald brand."
"The Daily Herald and Paddock Publications have been a part of the communities we serve for more than a 130 years and we expect to be here for many more," he said.
• Daily Herald Staff Writer Bob Susnjara contributed to this report.