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Reader Columnist Questions Article Saying Sun-Times Could Buy Paper

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CHICAGO (CBS) — A published report Monday said the Chicago Reader was up for sale and the Chicago Sun-Times had been approached as a potential buyer, but a popular Reader columnist cast doubt on the report soon afterward.

Crain’s Chicago Business reports the Reader has hired Dallas-based Bulkey Capital LP to help shop the paper to potential buyers, and has spoken to at least two. The Chicago Sun-Times, which itself was recently sold to Chicago investor Michael Ferro and his company Wrapports LLC, was among the potential buyers that was approached, sources told Crain’s.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Felicia Middlebrooks reports

But in a column published Monday afternoon, Chicago Reader media critic Michael Miner expressed a number of doubts about the Crain’s article. He called the article “flimsy,” and said it suggested that the Sun-Times Media Group was a potential buyer only because it was “approached” without giving any indication as to whether the company was interested in buying the Reader or not.

Miner wrote that the Reader has actually been for sale ever since Atayala Capital Management bought the paper from the bankrupt Creative Loafing Inc. in 2009. He emphasized that Atayala is an investment firm, and not a publishing company, and never intended to keep the Reader permanently.

Miner, himself a former Sun-Times staffer, was also quick to point out that the Sun-Times was in bankruptcy itself not long ago.

“Maybe we should buy them first,” he quipped in the column. “There’s talk here of passing the hat, and if we reach three figures making an offer they can’t refuse. “

Sun-Times chief executive officer Tim Knight would not comment to Crain’s on the possible sale.

The second party approached by Bulkey Capital was not interested, sources told Crain’s.

In 2007, the paper was sold to Tampa, Fla.-based alternative newspaper chain Creative Loafing. Soon afterward, its long-standing format as a multi-section broadsheet was scrapped in favor of the single-section tabloid format that was used until last year. Sometime before that, the paper was cut from four to three sections when the music and the arts and culture sections were combined.

Creative Loafing filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008, in large part from debt incurred when it spent $40 million to buy the Reader, the Washington City Paper, and “The Straight Dope” column. Atalaya bought the other Creative Loafing papers in addition to the Reader the following year.

Atayala sold the other two Creative Loafing papers it purchased – weeklies in Tampa and Charlotte, N.C. – to Nashville, Tenn.-based SouthComm Inc., last October, Crain’s reported.

Crain’s says SouthComm and Village Voice Media Holdings LLC – the parent company of the Village Voice in New York and the Phoenix New Times – could also be candidates to buy the Reader.

The Reader was founded in 1971 by a group of friends from Carleton College – editor and publisher Robert Roth, art director Robert McCamant, advertising director Thomas Yoder, and operations director and treasurer Thomas Rehwaldt.

Rehwaldt was fired in 1988 after a falling out with the other partners and ended up suing the company twice – most recently over the plans to sell off the paper in 2007.

A year ago, the Reader underwent a major redesign, replacing its all-newsprint tabloid format with a glossy-covered, staple-bound booklet that suggests a magazine. Among the new offerings inside were a “mega” Arts and Culture section, a “Local Wares” feature on independent artisans and craftspeople, and a new “Mudville” sports column on both pro-sports fandom and recreation leagues.

But the paper still features its roster of renowned columnists, including media critic Miner, arts critic Deanna Isaacs, restaurant critic Mike Sula, and political writers Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke – who returned last year after a stint at the now-dormant Chicago News Cooperative. Cecil Adams’ “The Straight Dope” and Dan Savage’s “Savage Love” sex advice column have also remained all along.

The Reader also unveiled a redesigned Web site just a couple of weeks ago.