Seven years after selling Times Mirror Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times, the Chandler family might get it back as part of a shrewd bid that could give it control of the entire Tribune Co. for less than the selling price of one of the nation’s most acclaimed newspaper companies.
Already Tribune’s largest shareholder, the family has offered to buy the media titan and spin-off its broadcast division in a deal valued at $7.6 billion.
In 2000, the Chandlers sold Times Mirror to Tribune for $8 billion, including debt.
The current bid reflects the changing strategy of the family that built Times Mirror and helped shape Southern California while weathering its share of internal disputes.
The family made its offer for Tribune this week through Chandler Trusts, which has a 20 percent stake in Tribune and three board seats.
Last year, the family began to agitate for aggressive measures to boost Tribune’s sagging stock. The family publicly rejected a plan proposed by Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons that included share buybacks and instead called for the company’s breakup.
The showdown led the Tribune board to consider the sale of all or parts of the company.
Under its offer, Chandler Trusts, which represents about 170 family members, would own 51 percent of Tribune after the deal closes, with the remaining 49 percent held by two private equity firms, whose names were not disclosed.
The deal left observers unclear about the trusts’ intentions for the newspapers.
Tribune also received a joint bid from Los Angeles billionaires Eli Broad and Ronald Burkle that would pile significantly more debt, and risk, on Tribune at a time when the newspaper industry’s prospects are cloudy at best.
An independent Tribune board committee is expected to consider the offers Saturday in Chicago, with the full board deciding a course of action sometime in the first quarter.
Chandler family members on the Tribune board will not participate in the initial review.
The three seats are held by Jeffrey Chandler, 64, a cousin of storied Times publisher Otis Chandler, and Roger Goodan, whose mother was a Chandler. Trustee William Stinehart Jr. is an attorney who married into the family.
A biography on Tribune’s Web site says Jeffrey Chandler is president and chief executive officer of Chandler Ranch Co., a large grower of avocados in California. He once owned several radio stations in San Diego County.
An e-mail sent to Thomas Unterman, a Chandler Trusts attorney and longtime family adviser, was not immediately answered.
Only a few Chandler descendants have ever worked at a newspaper. Most draw an income from the trusts or vast real estate holdings bought with their Times Mirror fortune.
Rarely have family members publicly expressed concern for the journalistic integrity of the Times, which has been a revolving door for publishers and editors since Tribune took over.
David Laventhol, who served as Times publisher from 1989 to 1994, has bemoaned the decline of the company since the departure of Otis Chandler two decades ago.
During those years, Times Mirror sold off holdings, including magazines and cable TV companies.
“They wanted their money,” Laventhol told the Times last March about the family’s desire for dividends.
A festering feud between two family factions also complicated the running of Times Mirror and contributed to the decision to sell the company to Tribune in 2000.
The bad feelings began in 1960 when Norman Chandler snubbed his brother Philip and named his own son Otis as publisher.
Otis promptly alienated his relatives by shifting the paper’s conservative political stance to the left. He also started an editorial campaign against the right-wing John Birch Society, a group that counted Philip Chandler as one of its strongest supporters.
“The avaricious Chandlers for the next quarter century bit their tongues while Otis built the newspaper into one of the most powerful in the country, both from a circulation and advertising revenue side as well as journalistically,” said Dennis McDougal, a former Times staffer and author of the book “Privileged Son,” about Otis Chandler.
In 1980, Otis retired and over the next two decades, other family members asserted themselves.
The split became deeper in 1996, after Otis called his relatives “elitists” in a Vanity Fair article. Soon after, Otis left the governing board of the family trust, losing any voice in the future of the company.
When the family decided to sell Times Mirror to Tribune, Otis was notified only after the deal had been signed.
Last November, after Tribune forced Times editor Dean Baquet to quit over a cost-cutting dispute, Harry Chandler, Otis’s son, wrote an opinion piece in the Times to clear up what he called “misconceptions” about the family.
“It is not a small group that meets at ‘the club’ on Sundays, but rather 170 living descendants,” the 53-year-old Chandler wrote.