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San Diego Union-Tribune owner exploring options for newspaper

Platinum Equity hires an investment bank, a move that is often seen as the first step toward seeking a buyer.

July 14, 2011|By Walter Hamilton, Los Angeles Times

The Beverly Hills-based private-equity firm that owns the San Diego Union-Tribune has hired a New York investment bank to explore options for the newspaper, a move often considered a first step for an owner seeking to sell.

Platinum Equity, which acquired the paper two years ago from the Copley family, hired Evercore Partners to "evaluate strategic alternatives," said Mark Barnhill, a principal at Platinum.

"We manage a large and complex investment portfolio, and routinely consider a range of options that will best position our companies for the future," Barnhill said in a statement.

Still, such announcements typically are viewed as the corporate equivalent of hanging out a 'for sale' sign. The likeliest bidders for the paper are seen as Tribune Co., the parent of the Los Angeles Times, and MediaNews Group Inc., which owns a string of regional newspapers in Southern California.

A Tribune spokesman declined to comment, and a MediaNews spokesman did not return a phone call.

The move by Platinum Equity comes as Irvine-based Freedom Communications Inc., the parent of the Orange County Register, is for sale.

Even as other types of media companies have begun to recover from the recession, the newspaper industry continues to struggle with declining advertising.

Industrywide, ad revenue has fallen for 51/2 years, said Ken Doctor, an analyst at research firm Outsell Inc.

"You look at the trajectory of news companies' revenue and it's hard to be optimistic about them getting better," Doctor said. "It wouldn't surprise me for [Platinum] to essentially throw in the towel and say 'let's get the best [deal] we can get.' "

walter.hamilton@latimes.com

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