Tribune Co. to publish papers despite bankruptcy filing

December 8, 2008 9:20:47 PM PST
The Tribune Company says it will keep publishing newspapers despite filing for bankruptcy protection. The media company has filed for bankruptcy, claiming it is buried under $13 billion in debt.

The Tribune is the first major newspaper publisher to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy since the internet weakened the industry by reducing demand for papers.

The Tribune also owns the Cubs and several television stations.

The Tribune is hardly alone among media companies in suffering financial pressures right now. Nearly every company including the New York Times is facing the harsh realities of the economy.

But experts say the Tribune's problems have more to do with the enormous debt the company took on when Sam Zell bought the company about a year ago.

At Tribune Company owned WGN Radio tonight, the company's bankruptcy filing is big news. It was a move no one saw coming when billionaire Sam Zell bought the Tribune.

But Zell says in a statement, "it has been, to say the least, the perfect storm. A precipitous decline in revenue and a tough economy have coupled with a credit crisis, making it extremely difficult to support our debt. The filing should not impact the way you do your jobs on a day to day basis."

Experts say the economy has already affected that. The Chicago Tribune has suffered numerous job cuts and buyouts in recent months and recently redesigned the paper.

In the bankruptcy filing, they listed debts of $13 billion and assets of $7.6 billion.

Experts say it is the debt that forced them into bankruptcy.

"It's not the capital structure that failed but the reality is this was an extremely highly leveraged transaction that came with a lot of risks and one of these risks has now manifested itself and you can't be terribly, terribly surprised," said Douglas Baird, University of Chicago law professor.

Most newspaper employees are reluctant to talk on the record.

The company includes numerous diverse forms of media from television to print to the internet in several major markets around the country. And advertising revenue is down everywhere but the Web.

"Web revenues are not growing as fast as print revenues are declining. That is the real issue for all traditional media outlets at the moment," said Prof. Steve Duke, Medill School of Journalism.

The Tribune Company has a nearly $600 million note due in June. But they also have an easy form of revenue available if they are able to sell the Cubs by then. But the bankruptcy deal could complicate that sale even though the Cubs are not involved in the bankruptcy. The Tribune Company creditors will likely have to approve any sale before it can go through.


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