Prelude To Going Private? Tribune Hires Strategic Consultants

By: Mark Fitzgerald

In a development sure to fuel speculation about a management-led effort to take Tribune Co. private, the company said late Thursday it had hired Merrill Lynch and Citigroup as financial advisors to “assist the company as it explores strategic alternatives to create additional shareholder value.”

At the same time, the independent special committee of the board of directors, which was formed to maximize shareholder value, announced it had hired the firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom as legal counsel — and that it plans to retain its own financial advisor.

A Tribune spokesman cautioned against reading anything into the announcement, but the company’s flagship newspaper, the Chicago Tribune reported last Sunday in an article by Michael Oneal that “management’s favored solution” to its well-known stock woes and restive shareholders would be to sell off “many” of its dozen TV stations and some of its smaller papers — and take the remaining company private.

A source familiar with management thinking has told that to E&P as well.

In a statement, Tribune Chairman, President and CEO Dennis FitzSimons said that managements initial focus will be “determining the best strategic alternatives for the company and its publishing and broadcast groups as a whole, before evaluating strategic alternatives for individual business units.”

Management will “work closely” with the independent special committee, he added.

“Management and its financial advisors will present strategic alternatives to the independent special committee,” William A. Osborn, Tribune’s lead independent director, said in a statement. “The committee will ultimately make a recommendation to the full board of directors.”

The board reiterated that it expects the process to be concluded by the end of the year.

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