How would Sun-Times sale affect media landscape?

Area media mavens don't expect great changes in the way Chicagoans get their news if the sale of the Chicago Sun-Times to the parent company of its longtime newsgathering rival Chicago Tribune goes through as advertised.

The planned acquisition of the daily tabloid currently owned by Wrapports LLC to Tribune parent tronc Inc. was announced Monday. Both sides stated they plan to keep newsroom operations separate from one another, but could combine administrative positions to reduce overhead and redundancies.

The purchase of one newspaper by a competitor is not rare, but the continued operation of separate newsrooms under the same corporate shingle is.

"If they're operating two distinct newsrooms as they've been saying, the impact would be small," said Owen Youngman, professor and Knight chair of digital media strategy at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston and former Tribune editor. "But ultimately, it's going to be an economic decision."

The recent history of urban newspaper operations is littered with failed attempts to combine operational forces while maintaining competing editorial ventures. Dozens of metropolitan daily newspapers that attempted such Joint Operating Agreements ended with one of the newspapers folding. Only a handful of such agreements remain in place currently in markets like Detroit, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

That doesn't bode well for the Sun-Times future, some say.

"Long-term odds are not especially good, if past is prologue around the country and the totally dismal revenue situation of local dailies persists," said Jim Warren, a former Sun-Times reporter and Tribune managing editor who now serves as chief media writer for the Poynter Institute and Vanity Fair.

Much like the proposed Chicago newspaper deal, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News are both under the same ownership umbrella. However, the tabloid-style Daily News is published as an edition of the Inquirer. The two newspapers also share a website at The two newsrooms have been operating this way since 2010.

Many have long believed the Sun-Times would wind up swallowed by or under the wing of the Tribune. The Tribune has been handling printing and distribution of the Sun-Times for a decade.

"In the short term, it means the Sun-Times can survive as a brand and as a journalistic entity, but in the long run, it would mean it would be permanently stunted by its status with the new ownership," said Chicago area media critic and Daily Herald columnist Robert Feder. "This is not a time to rejoice. There may be a sense of relief that they have dodged a bullet again, but this in no way indicates a bright and rosy future."

And, the deal is not done. The U.S. Department of Justice antitrust division has to sign off on it. The Sun-Times' parent company complied with a suggestion from the federal agency to announce the paper's pending sale by placing a full-page advertisement in Tuesday's edition. The ad says any interested purchasers should make an offer in 15 days or else the paper will be sold to tronc.

"As an outside observer, 15 days doesn't seem like a ... lot of time for anybody who might be seriously considering buying the Sun-Times and its sibling organizations to put together a real significant proposal, and one that meets all the stipulations they've put on it," said Charlie Meyerson, a longtime Chicago journalist who recently launched, a daily aggregated email newscast of the region's top stories. Meyerson is a former Tribune editor and his son is still employed there.

The Sun-Times and Daily Herald currently share an editorial alliance, Daily Herald executives said they are unsure what will become of that partnership if the sale goes through.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.