Why Hearst may be angling to buy chunk of Tribune Publishing

Media empire Hearst is angling to buy a chunk of Tribune Publishing, the newspaper giant that owns the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and the New York Daily News, The Post has learned.

In a twist, sources said Hearst — which in addition to glossy monthlies like Cosmopolitan and Esquire already owns a slew of daily newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle — doesn’t appear to be interested in Tribune’s biggest papers.

In what has become a dragged-out auction of Tribune, insiders said Hearst instead is mainly eyeing smaller outfits like the Orlando Sentinel, South Florida’s Sun Sentinel, The (Allentown, Pa.) Morning Call and The Virginian-Pilot, sources close to the talks said.

Hearst likewise appears interested in buying Tribune’s Hartford Courant, although some insiders have flagged possible antitrust worries, as Hearst already owns the Connecticut Post, the Stamford Advocate and the New Haven Register.

Although less likely, sources say there’s a chance Hearst also could be interested in the Chicago Tribune, as Hearst already owns a number of papers in Illinois and Michigan. A big stumbling block is that the Chicago Tribune — the company’s crown jewel with about $40 million in Ebitda last year — is now facing its first-ever unionization push.

Hearst is signaling interest as Wall Street financier Will Wyatt’s Donerail Group scrambles to engineer a complicated buy-it-to-bust-it-up acquisition of Tribune. One source said up to six newspaper companies may be vying to acquire midsize and smaller titles in any carve-up scenario.

In addition to Hearst, AIM Media, a Texas-based newspaper chain headed by Jeremy Halbreich, is also said to be talking to the Donerail Group with the hope of picking off the Chicago Tribune for his company, which counts US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross as a backer.

McClatchy, the owner of the Miami Herald, Charlotte Observer and Kansas City Star, is now looking to pick off select titles after Tribune recently rejected its bid for the whole company, worth $15 per share in cash plus $1.50 in stock.

Tribune shares on Friday dropped 8 percent to close at $12.21 after Chief Executive Justin Dearborn — only one year into a three-year contract paying him a $600,000 base salary — abruptly resigned and was replaced by Tribune President Tim Knight.

Dearborn was a deal man, closely aligned with former Tribune chairman and big shareholder Michael Ferro. Ross Levinsohn, another top Tribune exec, also resigned.

In recent days, sources said Tribune, impatient over the lack of a deal, told its long-term banker Lazard to begin lining up banks to see if it could reverse course and try to buy Gannett, the publisher of USA Today. Only two weeks ago Tribune was trying to entice Gannett back into a renewed takeover bid of Tribune, after Gannett’s 2015-2016 overture collapsed in acrimony.

While Gannett apparently had little interest, last week it became the target of a hostile, $1.4 billion takeover bid from MNG Enterprises, more commonly known as Digital First Media.

Reps for Hearst, Tribune, McClatchy, AIM and Donerail didn’t comment.

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