Forget Christmas; wait 'til Easter.
That essentially was Dennis Fitzsimons' message as he announced that the Tribune break-up or sale won't happen this year, but rather toward the end of the first quarter. He attributed the delay to the complexities involved in the potential transaction(s). Sure, it's complex. Assets that range from a newly challenged CareerBuilder to problematic TV stations to the Chandlers' former flagship L.A. Times to the Tribune's own tower and now to the grossly overcommitted sum of $136 million, pledged to Alfonso Soriano ( career on-base Percentage of .325). Soriano's contract now looks like it may outlive quite a few daily newspapers in this country of ours.
I'm inclined to believe Fitzsimons that the delay in sale -- remember the painful twisting of Knight Ridder in the wind, not very long ago? -- is in part due to that complexity and the related tax implications of what gets sold to whom when.
But the big question is simply this, again: What's a Newspaper Worth? What's a collection of newspapers, plus or minus the Cubbies, worth?
Two private equity owners came in with bids that underwhelmed, offering no premium on the current share price. That's no surprise. Again, it's entirely reminiscent of KR. Lots of noise, lots of positioning and in the end, McClatchy was the only company to pony up for the whole company (though it started parceling it out within hours of the purchase). Think about it from a potential owner's viewpoint. You've got a business that is plainly flat-lining. Revenues for Tribune newspapers, as for industry, are no longer staying above water. They're not only below inflation; they're starting to trail last year's. And online growth -- impressive as it is in the 30% category -- doesn't begin to make up for the print shortfall.