Tribune loses SoCal papers to Digital First

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Tribune Company, which owns Los Angeles Times, lost the Orange County Register to Digital First Media.

Tribune Publishing’s hopes of acquiring The Orange County Register and the Riverside Press-Enterprise have been dashed by Digital First Media.

Last Thursday, the Justice Department filed an antitrust suit to block Tribune — the owner of The Los Angeles Times — from acquiring Freedom Communications, the bankrupt publisher of the Register and the Press-Enterprise. Such an acquisition would give Tribune a monopoly over the Southern California market, the DOJ said.

Over the weekend, Freedom Communications announced that it would instead sell both papers to Digital First Media, a Denver-based company that owns the Los Angeles Daily News and eight other daily papers in the Los Angeles area.

Freedom won’t get as much money for the deal: Whereas Tribune was offering $56 million for the acquisition, Digital First is offering $45.5 million. But Freedom is required to close its bankruptcy proceedings by March 31, and the Justice Department’s block on Tribune would prevent that sale from happening in time.

Related: Los Angeles Times deal is targeted by federal anti-trust suit

The Justice Department said last week that the acquisition would give Tribune a monopoly over Southern California, because the Times and Register account for 98% of newspaper sales in Orange County, and the Times, Register and Press-Enterprise account for 81% of English-language newspaper sales in Riverside County.

“If this acquisition is allowed to proceed, newspaper competition will be eliminated and readers and advertisers in Orange and Riverside Counties will suffer,” Bill Baer, the Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, said in a statement. “Newspapers continue to play an important role in the dissemination of news and information to readers and remain an important vehicle for advertisers. The Antitrust Division is committed to ensuring that competition in this important industry is protected.”

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