Updated 12/21/11 – 9:10 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A group of investors led by Chicago technology entrepreneur Michael Ferro Jr. and former Newsday publisher Timothy Knight has purchased the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper company, including its suburban papers.
Although terms of the acquisition by Wrapports, LLC, were not disclosed in the investment group’s announcement late Wednesday, multiple news reports had pegged the purchase price at about $20 million.
Ferro, chairman of Wrapports, is also chairman and CEO of Merrick Ventures, a private investment firm.
Knight, former publisher and CEO of Newsday, will be the CEO of the Sun-Times once the purchase is final. The deal is expected to close by year’s end.
“We look forward to introducing cutting-edge technologies, new content portals and other tools that will expand and drive richer and more satisfying content to readers, while providing more targeted and measurable promotion options for our advertising partners,” Knight said. “At a time when the public’s appetite for news stories, photographs, videos and blogs has reached an unprecedented level, Sun-Times Media is poised to meet that demand by developing creative ways to deliver a true multi-media experience for our users — how they want it, where they want it, when they want it.”
The sale comes at a time when newspapers all over the country are struggling to stay afloat, with the Sun-Times itself being no exception. Circulation overall is down this year.
Just a couple of years ago, the paper was bought out by a group led by late Mesirow Financial CEO Jim Tyree.
At the time, parent company the Sun-Times Media Group emerged from bankruptcy, but drastically cut costs, slashed jobs and outsourced its printing operations.
Tyree died in March at the age of 53.
The business side of the of the Sun-Times has a long and colorful history, going back to 1983, when the Marshall Field family sold the paper to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The move prompted the legendary Mike Royko to defect to the Tribune the following year, and remark that “no self-respecting fish would want to be wrapped in a Murdoch paper.”
Roger Ebert, who remained with the paper, was also a harsh critic of Murdoch during his reign.
“He threw out every meticulous detail of the beautiful design, ordered up big, garish headlines, and gave big play to a story about a North Shore rabbi accused of holding a sex slave,” Ebert wrote in his blog this past July.
In 1986, Murdoch sold the Sun-Times so he could buy WFLD-Channel 32 to launch the Fox TV network. An investor group led by Sun-Times publisher Robert E. Page and New York investment firm Adler & Shaykin took over.
The investor group in turn sold the paper to Hollinger International, a media empire controlled by Canadian businessman Conrad Black, in 1994. Hollinger also owned the Daily Telegraph of London, the Jerusalem Post and hundreds of community papers across this country and Canada.
Black ended up being charged with obstruction of justice and fraud for swindling the company’s shareholders out of $6.1 million.
Staffers at the Sun-Times blamed Black, his Sun-Times publisher F. David Radler, and other officials for looting the company and leaving it with a burden of $608 million in taxes and penalties.
Black was convicted and sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison in 2007. He was released on an appeals bond after the U.S. Supreme threw out his honest services fraud conviction, but was sent back to prison for 13 months earlier this year on a remaining conviction of fraud by theft.
The Sun-Times Media Group filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Before Tyree stepped in, there were concerns that the paper might go out of business.
In one of the newest developments, the Sun-Times earlier this month took its Web site behind a pay wall. While access to Sun-Times articles on the Web used to be free, now, Web users may only view the pages of the Sun-Times and its affiliated suburban newspapers every 30 days.
Afterward, Web readers must buy an online subscription, which costs $1.99 for a four-week period for existing home delivery customers. Those who do not have home delivery will be charged $6.99 every four weeks, or $77.87 for a full year.
Sun-Times Media chairman Jeremy Halbreich was quoted in the paper earlier this month, “We think the time is long overdue for us to begin charging for our content,” which has won awards and needs to be supported in new ways.
The Sun-Times ranks 12th overall in average weekday circulation among U.S. newspapers, the Tribune reported.