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Billionaires push to derail hedge fund takeover of local newspapers

Two unlikely billionaires may be close derailing a massive newspaper deal that would've likely resulted in the loss of hundreds of local journalism jobs across the country.

Driving the news: Maryland hotel magnate Stewart Bainum Jr. and Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss have reportedly agreed to put up more than $600 million of their own money to help finance a roughly $680 million bid for Tribune Publishing, the parent to many of America's most iconic newspapers.

  • The billionaires' bid, according to The Wall Street Journal, can now be recommended for consideration by Tribune's board to its shareholders over a cheaper bid from private equity giant Alden Global Capital.
  • In February, Alden said it would buy out the remainder of Tribune Publishing, the parent company to the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News and other local papers, in a deal valuing Tribune at roughly $630 million.
  • On Sunday, The Journal reported that Banium Jr. and Wyss were able to secure the financing for their bid after originally proposing to put up $200 million of their own dollars. Alden will have four days to come up with a higher bid, or else risk losing the deal, per The Journal.

Be smart: Alden Global Capital is a hedge fund known for cutting journalists at local papers to maximize profits. It has spent years positioning itself as Tribune’s presumed buyer, by incrementally increasing its stake in the publicly-traded company.

  • The Journal reported that publicly pleas from Chicago Tribune journalists to save the paper from Alden’s anticipated destruction is what inspired Wyss to make the bid.
  • Last weekend, The New York Times' reported that Wyss was joining Bainum Jr. in his bid for the Tribune papers, with plans to own Chicago Tribune.
  • Bainum Jr. originally said he would buy the Baltimore Sun, The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, and a few other smaller Maryland papers from Tribune for a reported $65 million to spin the news group into a non-profit.
  • The Journal reports that Banium Jr. is still planning to spin the Margland-based papers into non-profits, and out them in control of private trusts.

Be smart: Other wealthy individuals are apparently eyeing ways to help save their local papers from Alden’s potential takeover.

  • Last week, The Journal reported that a Florida investor named Mason Slaine, who is a minority investor in Tribune, was willing to put up $100 million in the bid for Tribune being led by Bainum Jr.
  • The WSJ noted Sunday that Slaine is not included in the new bid submitted to Trubune's Board from Banium Jr. and Wyss.
  • Slaine was reportedly eyeing ownership of Tribune’s two Florida papers, the Orlando Sentinel and the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale.
  • Last weekend, the Morning Call, a paper representing Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania that's owned by Tribune Publishing, reported that a Manhattan investor was the mystery bidder behind a $30-$40 million offer for the paper.

Go deeper: Billionaires scoop up news outlets as new form of philanthropy.

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