Two southern California billionaires who had signaled interest in buying the Los Angeles Times instead joined forces in a surprise bid for the entire Tribune Co, the Chicago-based parent of the Times and other media properties.
The offer came on Wednesday from Eli Broad, a philanthropist who made his fortune in housing construction and investment services, and Ron Burkle, whose billions came from owning supermarket chains, according to a person familiar with the offer who was not authorized to publicly discuss it.
Further details were unavailable on the amount of the bid and whether the potential buyers would break up the company that owns 11 newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, 25 television stations and the Chicago Cubs baseball team.
It also has sizable stakes in the Food Network and the online classified advertising venture CareerBuilder.
Broad declined to comment. A call to Burkle's office was not immediately returned.
The bid came a day after Tribune Co replaced Dean Baquet as editor of the Times because he defied demands to make further staff cuts at the paper.
Broad and Burkle have long said they would be interested in returning the Times to local ownership.
A third billionaire, entertainment mogul David Geffen, is also known to be interested in buying the Times. A call to his office was not immediately returned.
Tribune Co spokesman Gary Weitman declined to comment.
Tribune Co signaled its willingness to sell all or part of the company in September after being pressured by several large shareholders angered by its lagging stock price and sagging fortunes.
Chief among those shareholders were members of the Chandler family, which owned the Los Angeles Times for decades before selling its parent, the Times Mirror, to Tribune Co in 2000 for US$6.5 billion.
The Chandlers, now Tribune Co's largest shareholders, pressed for a breakup of the media giant in June while reportedly citing analysts who estimated Tribune's value at as much as US$46 a share.
The company's stock has slid badly since trading above US$50 as recently as early 2004. Tribune shares finished at US$32.48 on Wednesday on the NYSE.