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Tribune Publishing denies rumor of sale started by Rupert Murdoch tweet

 Los Angeles Times
Reports on Thursday cast doubts on a merger between Los Angeles Times owner Tronc and Gannett Co.
(Richard Vogel / Associated Press)

Tribune Publishing Co. on Monday denied a rumor started by media mogul Rupert Murdoch that the news organization was on the verge of being sold, saying it is “not engaged in discussion or a process to sell the company.”

Tribune Publishing, which owns the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and several other newspapers, sent a message to its employees addressing what it called “media speculation.”

The speculation began Friday when Murdoch, co-chairman of News Corp., said on Twitter that he had heard Tribune Publishing would be sold and that The Times would be spun off to a local group involving billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad.

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“Strong word Tribune newspaper group to be bought by big Wall St firm, LA Times to go to philanthropist Eli Broad and local group,” Murdoch tweeted.

Broad on Friday declined comment on the matter.

In its Monday statement, Tribune Publishing said it wanted to address what it called a rumor of a sale.

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“While our policy is not to comment on rumors, given the source of this speculation and the fact that it has received considerable public attention, the company believes a statement to employees is warranted,” Tribune Publishing said.

“As our board of directors noted earlier this fall, and as we articulated in our November earnings call, Tribune Publishing remains committed to its strategy and transformation plan and is not engaged in discussions or a process to sell the company,” the statement said.

“As we finish the important fourth quarter, we appreciate the continued hard work and commitment of our employees,” the statement concluded.

The company was spun off from Tribune Co. in August 2014. Since then, stock in Tribune Publishing has dropped about 62%.

On Monday, Tribune Publishing stock jumped 89 cents, or nearly 10%, to $10.18.

In September, the company abruptly fired Times publisher Austin Beutner. Tribune Publishing Chief Executive Jack Griffin said at the time that Beutner wasn’t on the same page as the rest of the company in trying to keep it profitable.

But sources said tension between the two escalated when Broad made overtures to buy The Times.

Since Beutner’s ouster, civic and business leaders in Los Angeles have stirred speculation about a sale, calling for local ownership.

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