Is the ailing San Diego Union-Tribune fated to return to something akin to its days under the lash of La Jolla-based mega-millionaire and Donald Trump donor and ambassadorial nominee Douglas Manchester?
Nearly three months ago, tronc, the oddly-named Chicago-based newspaper chain announced a deal to unload the Los Angeles Times and Union-Tribune for $500 million, plus $90 million in U-T pension debt, to L.A. physician Patrick Soon-Shiong.
But despite April 16's assurances by the billionaire of good times ahead for employees of the Times and U-T, the takeover remains an un-done deal, leaving Wall Streeters speculating that Soon-Shiong has been demanding a lower price for the distressed duo.
Enter Rancho Santa Fe's John T. Lynch, the U-T's chief executive officer when Republican kingpin Manchester owned the operation. Federal Securities and Exchange Commission filings show that Lynch has teamed with a member of Chicago's fabled McCormick clan to purchase the 25.7 percent of tronc stock controlled by Mike Ferro, who quit as tronc's chairman last month only hours before two women accused him of making inappropriate advances.
"The buyer, related to the McCormick family that controlled the Chicago Tribune throughout much of its history, approached Ferro within the last couple of weeks with the offer, according to a source familiar with the deal," the L.A. Times reported April 13.
An April 13 SEC filing says that behind McCormick Media are three managers, Sargent M. McCormick-Collier, Ronald P. (Clancy) Woods, and Rancho Santa Fe's Lynch, featured in this year's Washington Post piece about the U-T's "fraternity-style atmosphere" during Manchester's era.
Lynch and company are "engaging in discussions with one or more significant stockholders" of tronc, per a subsequent April 19 SEC filing. Matters up for review include future asset sales, changes in the company's ownership structure, and "potential business combinations or dispositions," among other options, the filing says.
Though the other parties are unnamed, an April 23 New York Post report says that Lynch's group recently met with Soon-Shiong, per an unidentified source.
"There has been speculation that the 65-year-old surgeon does not have the liquid money to complete the buyout," according to the Post's account. "Monday’s filing did not identify the name of the potential seller — opening the possibility that it could be any other shareholder, not just Soon-Shiong."
"The principal business of Mr. Lynch is as Chairman of Lartigue Ventures LLC, a multimedia company," says the SEC document. "The principal business of Mr. Woods is as Chief Executive Officer of Lartigue Ventures LLC." Like Lynch, Woods of Scottsdale, Arizona, is a veteran of the sports radio business, according to online profiles.
McCormick-Collier, who will soon change his last name to McCormick, the filing says, is described by an April 18 profile in Crain's Chicago Business as a self-styled friend of journalism.
"There's a need to have a solid newspaper in Chicago that can capture, reclaim its notions of truth and trustworthiness," said McCormick-Collier, identified by Crain's as "a distant relative of the Tribune's late prominent publisher Col. Robert McCormick."
The 35-year-old "struck Northwestern University professor Michael Marasco as 'eccentric' when they met years ago about a potential project that didn't go forward, said Marasco, who is the director of Northwestern's Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation," per the report.