Canadian Newspaper Baron Finally Gets His US Flagship

CONRAD BLACK, one of Canada's most savvy newspaper barons, has finally made a name for himself in the United States by acquiring a major metropolitan newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times.

The $180 million purchase of the Sun-Times announced Monday came as no great surprise to Canadian media analysts, who have watched Mr. Black build a newspaper empire stretching across four continents.

Prominent papers

Hollinger Inc., Black's Vancouver-based holding company, controls Canadian newspaper interests and overseas subsidiaries, including American Publishing Co., the West Frankfort, Ill.,-based company that bought the the Sun-Times. Black also owns the London Daily Telegraph, the Financial Post in Toronto, the Jerusalem Post, and the Sydney Morning Herald.

``Hollinger ... is one of the few Canadian publishing companies that are in acquisition mode,'' says Marianne Godwin, media analyst for BBN James Capel Inc., a Toronto brokerage firm. ``They've held up better through the recession than any other Canadian publisher and now they're eyeing opportunities worldwide.''

Black had been stymied for several years in his quest for a ``flagship'' newspaper in the US. He tried to capture the New York Daily News when it was up for sale in 1992. But he withdrew his $75 million bid when unions refused concessions. Black has made a career of making ailing newspapers profitable, as he did with the Daily Telegraph. The purchase of the financially stable Sun-Times is an exception that company officials call a ``strategic'' acquisition.

Feisty rivalry

With 535,000 daily circulation, the Sun-Times is Chicago's No. 2 newspaper and the nation's ninth biggest metropolitan daily newspaper. It made a $20 million profit last year, Hollinger officials say, even though it is fighting a circulation battle with its biggest rival, the 690,000-circulation Chicago Tribune.

The feisty Sun-Times, formerly owned by Australian media magnate Rupert Murdoch, was once Chicago's dominant newspaper, winning 23 Pulitzer prizes. Some say it currently has an edge over the Tribune in reporting city news. Mr. Murdoch purchased the paper from the Marshall Field family in 1984 and then sold it two years later.

Black and other officials say there is not much fat to cut at the Sun-Times. With the exception of a few new efficiencies, such as the purchase of newsprint, there will be few changes in its operation.

``This [the Sun-Times] is a much better buy than the New York News,'' Black told the Financial Post. ``It's not a bankrupt paper, it has no union problems, and it is making a profit.''

The purchase of the Sun-Times from Adler & Shaykin, a New York investment firm, includes about 60 weekly and biweekly newspapers under the Sun-Times umbrella. The deal should be completed on March 31.

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