Tribune Publishing places top bid for Orange County Register

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Tribune Publishing on Thursday said it had placed the winning bid to buy the bankrupt Orange County Register and Press-Enterprise newspapers in a move that could extend the company's reach across a vast swath of Southern California.

Tribune, which publishes the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, said it agreed to pay $56 million for the business and real estate of Freedom Communications, which declared bankruptcy in November.

A judge still must approve the sale and has scheduled a hearing in federal bankruptcy court for Monday.

The Justice Department earlier this week warned that a purchase by Tribune could violate antitrust laws since it would give the company a string of papers from Los Angeles to the border with Mexico. The department declined to comment immediately on the results of the auction.

Tribune's announcement comes after it competed for the newspapers with an investor group led by Freedom's current managers and Digital First Media — which owns nine Southern California newspapers and websites, including the Los Angeles Daily News.

"The successful bid for the business of Freedom Communications will allow the Orange County Register and the Press-Enterprise to continue providing a distinct local voice in their communities and deliver premium news and information to consumers across Southern California," Tribune Publishing CEO Justin Dearborn said in a statement.

Freedom Communications sought bankruptcy protection three years after the Register embarked on an aggressive expansion of print journalism that included starting a Los Angeles spinoff and buying the Riverside-based newspaper for $27 million.

Both Digital First and Tribune saw buying the papers as a way to expand their territory in suburban Southern California. Digital First had submitted a stalking horse bid of $45.5 million for the newspapers that did not include assumption of Freedom's pension obligations.

Messages seeking comment were left for Freedom and Digital First.

A coalition of Orange County business leaders supported the bid by the investor group led by Freedom Chief Executive Rich Mirman to retain local control over news coverage for the county of 3 million people.

The Associated Press is among the creditors in Freedom's bankruptcy proceedings.