N.Y. Daily News: going once, twice, sold?

A conditional sale of the New York Daily News is imminent -- possibly within 10 days.

So says one top executive at the Daily News, which has the largest circulation of any general-interest newspaper in the country.

Negotiations are being held with several potential buyers, says this executive, one of whom is expected to emerge as the paper's buyer in the next week or 10 days.

By a conditional sale, this executive says, he means that even after the buyer makes an offer for the paper, the unions and the stockholders of the Tribune Company of Chicago -- the parent company of the Daily News -- may play key roles in concluding the deal.

Another Daily News executive adds that the conditional buyer will be ''given the right to have talks with the unions.''

Some of the unions recently voted to forego their March 30 raises and commit this money to buying stock in the financially troubled paper. But those close to the negotiations say the unions would have to make many other concessions before a contract on any preliminary agreement could be signed.

One of the most volatile issues is that of jobs. After the Tribune Company announced last December that it was putting the paper up for sale, a number of News employees retired or left to find other jobs. In the editorial department alone, 20 out of 555 employees have left so far. But published reports say that potential buyers want assurances that up to 1,500 of the more than 3,700 full-time employees could be cut either through attrition or dismissal. This may prove a major stumbling block in negotiating a final sale, observers say.

The paper lost $11 million in 1981. Circulation has dropped roughly 30 percent in the past decade and the Tribune Company estimates it will cost some $ 60 million to modernized the paper's plant and equipment.

Knowledgeable Daily News sources say that one of the following will shortly become the buyer: Donald Trump, a New York real estate developer; John Dyson, former New York State commerce commissioner; Arthur Levitt, president of the American Stock Exchange and a group of investors, or Joe Albitton, the publisher.

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