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Monday, June 19, 2006

Abell Foundation Seeks To Buy The Baltimore Sun

06-19-06 1:39 PM EST


BALTIMORE (AP)--The Abell Foundation, a charitable organization started by the families that once owned The Baltimore Sun, is seeking along with local investors to buy the newspaper if shareholders force The Tribune Co. (TRB) to sell.

The Tribune Co. is being urged to sell the newspaper by its second-largest shareholder, members of the Chandler family. If the Tribune Co. agrees, Abell Foundation President Robert C. Embry said he would like to see the newspaper back in local hands.

"I think it's important that The Sun be locally owned and be separate from a larger corporate conglomerate," Embry said last week. "I'm sure it would be of interest to a great many people....It's not important that we be involved with it, but it's important that The Sun aspire to its previous level of excellence, and I think that's more easily done when the paper's focused on quality rather than on return to stockholders."

The foundation, which reported about $200 million in assets at the end of last year, has inquired about buying the newspaper each year for the past decade.

Embry said a few individuals, whom he didn't name, have called him to express interest. The foundation president also said he has talked informally in the past with a "number of institutions" about forming a group to buy The Sun.

"A lot turns on the asking price if indeed it is ever put up for sale," Embry said.

In 1986, the Chandlers' Times Mirror Co. paid $600 million for The Sun, The Evening Sun - which has since closed - and two television stations. The stations were sold that year for $209 million.

The Sun's circulation is now below the combined circulation of the two newspapers in 1986. For the six months ending in March, The Sun's daily circulation fell 3% compared to the same period a year earlier, to about 235, 000, and about 400,000 on Sundays. The newspaper also reaches additional readers on its Web site, http://www.baltimoresun.com, which didn't exist in 1986.
The Newspaper Guild, the union that represents some of the newspaper's employees, said it is also interested in a partnership to buy The Sun.

"We would be keenly interested in the Baltimore Sun for sure," said Linda K. Foley, international president of the Guild. "We think employee ownership is something that should be considered."

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