Chicago Tribune buys suburban papers from rival Sun-Times in deal designed to boost both

Deal gives the Sun-Times a new long-term printing deal, and the Tribune some added suburban circulation

The two Chicago daily newspapers are losing readership and looking for ways to survive the coming years. So both papers have agreed to make a deal: the Tribune will buy six daily and 32 weekly suburban newspapers from the Sun-Times, and the Sun-Times gets a new printing and distribution deal.

News-sun-smThe newish owners of the Sun-Times, Wrapports LLC, now have a better chance to stay alive and pursue its new 70-city local news network. Meanwhile, the Tribune gets to add about 95K in new circulation on a typical Friday from the SouthtownStar, Merrillville Post-Tribune, Aurora Beacon-News, Elgin Courier-News, Naperville Sun and Lake County News-Sun.

“We have reach in the suburbs now, but this gives us more reach, deeper reach, with really good brands that we’re acquiring,” said Jack Griffin, Tribune Publishing’s CEO.

The papers the Sun-Times is selling came as part of an acquisition made by Hollinger from Copley Newspapers, the former owner of the San Diego Union-Tribune and several Los Angeles newspapers (disclosure: I used to work for Copley in late ’80s). Copley pulled back as its owners aged and began to divest properties. These newspapers were once a fairly strong chain, but staff cutbacks, office closures, and a general pullback from suburban publishing have left them weak.

Fleck-smBut the Tribune has a far stronger ad them that should be able to capitalize on the new readership.

Bob Fleck (at left), who has been the Tribune’s Executive Vice President – Chief Revenue Officer, and at the Tribune since 1992, gets promoted to publisher of the suburban group.

The Sun-Times will retain ownership of The Reader, the free alt-weekly newspaper.

It will also now continue to develop its own local news network as part of its existing Aggrego Services division. The network of local websites somewhat mirrors the efforts of AOL’s Patch, which crashed and burned, though is not completely dead just yet. But while Patch was about local editors and local salespeople, the Sun-Times venture looks to be all about aggregated content in search of cheap traffic and incremental web ad dollars. Just this week Sun-Times Media (the developer account of the paper) launched 56 new mobile news apps for cities across the country (more on those apps next week).

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