Bingham Family Squabble May Come to an End Monday

Times Staff Writer

The bickering Bingham family said Friday that it will announce a buyer Monday for the Louisville Courier-Journal and Times newspapers amid speculation that Gannett Co. has won the bidding for Kentucky's biggest media empire.

Spokesman Donald Towles declined to say whether the Binghams had made a choice during a meeting Friday at the historic Seelbach Hotel in downtown Louisville. A meeting of the board of the Bingham companies reportedly is scheduled for Sunday.

"We're in no shape to make an announcement," Towles said. "The only announcement we can make is that we're going to make an announcement at 8:30 Monday morning."

Executive Editor Paul Janensch told the newspapers' staff Friday that the negotiations have been whittled down to one bidder.

The Bingham family hasn't revealed the names of the potential buyers, but Gannett is the front-runner in speculation by Louisville sources and analysts. Others believed to have submitted bids are Tribune Co. of Chicago and Washington Post Co.

"The likely one is Gannett," said John Morton, Washington-based media analyst for the Lynch, Jones & Ryan brokerage firm in New York. "But that's just speculation on my part, because they've been willing to pay some pretty high prices for properties," he said.

Gannett has ended two similar family feuds in media industry during the last two years by acquiring the Des Moines Register and the Detroit News.

Morton estimated that the Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times could fetch between $250 million and $300 million. Investment firms have placed a value of $255 million to $385 million on the entire Bingham empire, which also includes a Louisville television station, two radio stations and a rotogravure printing firm.

The sale marks the end of the Bingham family dynasty, which for nearly 70 years dominated the Kentucky scene. On Jan. 9, patriarch Barry Bingham Sr. put the family businesses on the block, citing "divergent interests" among his descendants who own or will inherit the 95% stake that Bingham controls.

Barry Bingham Jr. called the proposed sale "irrational" and a "betrayal" and resigned as editor and publisher of the newspapers and vice chairman of the broadcasting and printing firms. The elder and younger Binghams reconciled and Bingham Jr. agreed to continue in his jobs until the companies are sold.

The family dispute became public in 1984, when the younger Bingham asked several female family members to resign from the board of the family businesses so that outside professionals could be brought in. Bingham's sister, Sallie, was ousted after she refused to resign. She then put her 15% stake in the companies up for sale.

The elder Binghams ordered their children to settle their differences, and when that didn't happen, they decided to sell the companies.

Times staff writer Michael Wines in Washington contributed to the story.

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