[UPDATED with Tribune Talks Back On:] Sale Could Lead to One Company Owning All SoCal Dailies

UPDATE, JUNE 16, 9:22 A.M.: Now that merger talks with MediaNews have broken down, Irvine-based owner of the Orange County Register Freedom Communications has revived negotiations with that other Southern California newspaper  publisher.

No, not the Los Angeles investment company that bought the San Diego Union-Tribune but the Tribune Co., owner of regional granddaddy the Los Angeles Times.

Crain's Chicago cautions that Freedom is also talking with other suitors, and it is possible MediaNews will offer up a new bid. Freedom was leaning toward Dean Singleton's company because the publisher of the Denver Post and many SoCal dailies wanted to buy Freedom whole, not just pieces of the owner of 100 newspapers and television stations nationwide.

Meanwhile, a Tribune merger would be complicated by the Chicago-based company's bankruptcy proceedings. But Crain's Lynne Marek notes that a combined RegisterLA Times might appeal to advertisers and that the respective company's CEOs (Mitchell Stern at Freedom and Eddy Hartenstein at Tribune) worked together at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

UPDATE, JUNE 14, 2:20 P.M.: A merger between MediaNews, whose flagship newspaper is the Denver Post, and Freedom Communications, publisher of the Orange County Register, is apparently off.

Disagreement over the price to buy out Irvine-based Freedom reportedly killed the deal.

The Wall Street Journal has the scoop.

MediaNews, whose existing Southern California papers include the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Torrance Daily Breeze and San Gabriel Valley Tribune, had pegged the price tag for Freedom at $700 million, according to reporters Russell Adams and Mike Spector.

Freedom has moved on to other possible suitors for all or pieces of the company that publishes more than 100 other local newspapers and several television stations, report the Journalers.

ORIGINAL POST, APRIL 13, 9:54 A.M.: A newspaper journalist-turned-Silicon Valley media mogul sets up the dominoes which, once tipped over, could lead “a single entity” to “publish all the dailies from the Tehachapi Mountains at the north end of metro L.A. to the Mexican border.”

At the middle of it all is the pending sale of the Orange County Register.

Using numbers and knowledge and stuff on his Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, Alan D. Mutter argues that the Chicago-based Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times, and the Denver-based Media News Group, which owns just about every Southern California daily that is not the Times, Register or San Diego Union-Tribune, will be the most-likely winners of the bidding war for the Santa Ana daily.

Should that happen, Mutter believes it is conceivable that the winning bidder would merge with the losing bidder before the new behemoth sets its sights on the Union-Tribune and eventually sews up the entire Southern California mainstream daily newspaper market. Monopoly obviously isn't just a board game.

He's not some loon howling at the moon. Mutter was a columnist and editor in Chicago, the No. 2 editor at the San Francisco Chronicle,
the chief operating officer of one of the largest cable television
companies in the country and the creator of three Internet start-ups in
the Silicon Valley. He's now a media consultant who rubs elbows with the major players.

controlling interest in each of the four major newspaper companies in
SoCal is held by financially oriented investors whose business model is
to buy distressed assets at low prices, improve the profitability of the
holdings by increasing sales and/or cutting expenses and then exiting
deals as rapidly as possible through either an IPO or by selling the
assets to someone else,” Mutter reasons.

“One of the fastest and surest ways for
the investors to hasten a profitable departure is by going for the
operating synergies bound to result from putting their assets together.”

He does caution it is also possible that, for instance, a new TimesRegister would go it alone without the Media News properties, which includes the Long Beach Press-Telegram, the Torrance Daily Breeze and the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

Or, Platinum Equity, the LA investment firm that bought the Union-Tribune in 2009, squeezed it real tight and returned it to profitability, could snatch the crown jewel of Irvine-based Freedom Communications. Under that scenario, Platinum could then go after the Times and Media News papers which, after all, have struggled as much as the Register in Southern California.

Which just proves that the money men figure the only way for daily print journalism to survive is to get bigger and bigger.

Order your subscriptions now to the California Bee-Times-Register-Press-Telegram-Union-Tribune.

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