The Tribune Company has announced that it will split in two, separating its newspaper business from its broadcasting unit, as it focuses more on its television operations in an attempt to become more profitable. The announced spin-off is at least a temporary setback to Charles and David Koch, the conservative billionaire brothers who had expressed interest in acquiring the newspapers.
The Tribune Company owns the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and several other leading newspapers around the country. A spin-off will allow the current owners of the Tribune – including pension funds invested through the Tribune’s largest shareholder Oaktree Capital – to participate in a hoped-for turnaround of the newspapers as new sources of revenue such as digital subscriptions grow.
The spin-off is also a victory for journalistic integrity. Over the years, the Koch brothers have funded a variety of ultra-conservative organizations and causes. Many have feared that Koch-owned newspapers would be transformed to promote their political views. Charles Koch dismissed such concerns saying that the editorial pages of any purchased newspapers would be a “marketplace of ideas.”
The labor movement had also criticized any potential sale of the Tribune newspapers to the Koch Brothers. The California Labor Federation issued a report “The Koch Brothers Files” and the Newspaper Guild-CWA organized a panel of journalists at the National Press Club to discuss the dangers of such a sale. Although a spin-off will not prevent the Kochs from trying to purchase newspapers in the future, an immediate sale of the Tribune newspapers is unlikely for the time being.