A dozen media and finance firms interested in buying all or part of Freedom Communications Inc. traveled to Dallas this week to make their cases to the family members who own the Irvine-based publisher and broadcaster.
Yet none of the bidders, which include media giant Gannett Co. and MediaNews Group, publisher of the Daily News of Los Angeles and the Denver Post, was expected to discuss what it was willing to pay for all or part of Freedom, which has been valued at about $2 billion.
The details of each bid won't be disclosed to Freedom's shareholders, who are mostly descendants of founder Raymond C. Hoiles, until after Labor Day, said Freedom Chief Executive Alan Bell said.
The shareholders would probably vote in early October, Bell added.
One of the nation's last remaining family-owned media companies, Freedom owns 28 daily newspapers, 37 weekly newspapers and eight TV stations. Its flagship newspaper, the Orange County Register, has a daily circulation of more than 300,000.
About 60 family member shareholders met in Dallas for two days of lengthy presentations that began Tuesday.
"This is an opportunity for shareholders to learn," Bell said. "The decision is important to their lives and their heritage."
A sale would end nearly 70 years of Hoiles family ownership of the Register, which helped give rise to the conservative politics and free-market ideas that came to be identified with Orange County, and would presumably resolve a long-running family feud.
Some shareholders want to cash out their stakes in the firm, while others want to keep the company in the family. A coalition of some of the youngest family members -- the fourth generation of Hoileses -- is attempting to buy out their older relatives and is bidding for the company with the backing of investment firms Providence Equity Capital and Blackstone Group.
McLean, Va.-based Gannett is considered a front-runner and has made no secret of its intent to buy Freedom.
"We think it's a great company. We love them," said Tara Connell, a spokeswoman for Gannett. "We'd love to end up with them."
Gannett is "a very aggressive acquirer," said John Morton, a media analyst with Morton Research in Silver Spring, Md. "Some of these others, like MediaNews, are just interested in the Register."
MediaNews was not immediately available for comment, though a source familiar with the bidding said it had submitted an offer.
Other bidders include Lee Enterprises Inc., a Davenport, Iowa-based chain of community papers. It was unclear whether these bids would be for all or just a portion of the firm.
Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times, is not a bidder, the source said. A spokeswoman for the Chicago-based company declined to comment.
Investment firms such as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Thomas Lee Partners are bidding for all or part of Freedom, though analysts said these leveraged buyout firms were unlikely to be long-term buyers and were probably interested in Freedom's television stations, given the recent easing of federal communications rules that could increase the value of broadcast stations.
Freedom has about 7,500 employees, about 2,000 of whom work at the Santa Ana-based Orange County Register.