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Sun-Times’ parent company sells suburban newspapers to Tribune

Sun-Times Media’s parent company, Wrapports LLC, has sold its 32 suburban weeklies and six daily newspapers to Tribune Publishing Company.

The deal was announced Friday and becomes effective just after midnight, at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

“This transaction allows Wrapports to focus on our international digital strategy and to financially strengthen the Chicago Sun-Times,” Wrapports Chairman Michael Ferro said in a written statement. “We will invest in the Sun Times Network and Cube Network while ensuring the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper remains journalistically independent and on financially sound footing for many years to come.”

Tribune and Wrapports have also renegotiated a print and distribution deal for the Chicago Sun-Times, according to the news release.

Sun-Times executives in the past have complained that the high cost of that deal hampered the paper’s bottom line.

The terms of both deals were not disclosed.

The 143 editorial and sales employees currently working for the suburban newspapers will become Tribune employees, according to the news release. That group includes the 32 weekly Pioneer Press publications, as well as the Southtown Star, Naperville Sun, Elgin Courier-News, Aurora Beacon-News, Lake County News-Sun and the Post-Tribune in Northwest Indiana.

In most cases, the reporters at those papers have worked remotely, using laptop computers or iPads, while their editors have been based in the Sun-Times newsroom at River North Point, 350 N. Orleans St.

Asked whether any of the suburban newspapers are targeted for closing or downsizing, Tribune Publishing spokesman Matthew Hutchison said no changes are expected and “we welcome them into the (Chicago Tribune Media Group) family.”

The Sun-Times will provide transition services to the Tribune over the next few months to ensure the publications’ continuity.

Some suburban staffers in the Sun-Times newsroom were having their desks packed up Friday afternoon. One said they had been told to report to the Tribune Tower on Monday.

David Pollard, president of the Chicago Newspaper Guild, said Friday morning that he is “in the dark as far as the particulars” of the deal.

“I’m glad it’s done and the union is looking forward to a smooth transition and working closely with the new ownership,” Pollard said.

Dan Haley publishes the Wednesday Journal in Oak Park, which has competed with the Oak Leaves, a Pioneer Press newspaper that had been owned by Sun-Times Media. Now, he will have to deal with Tribune Company, and says he welcomes the new challenge.

“It doesn’t worry me a bit, but I certainly expect they will put a push on both for subscribers and advertisers,” said Haley, whose Chicago-area publications also include the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark and the Austin Weekly News.

“They’ve got some interesting combinations they can offer in terms of shared advertising. So they are formidable. So I take them very seriously. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for being a scrappy, independent publisher.”

In an internal email to Tribune employees announcing the deal, Tribune Co. CEO Tony Hunter said Bob Fleck will serve as publisher and general manager of Chicago Tribune Media Group’s suburban operations. Fleck most recently served as executive vice president of advertising for Tribune Publishing.

Hunter said in the email that the newly acquired publications “are complementary and adjacent to our already-strong product portfolio.”

In a joint email to those new Tribune employees, Hunter and Fleck said they would meet with them “at various locations” next week, “to outline our plans for a strong and successful integration and to answer any questions you may have.”

They also assured them that “your payroll and benefits will remain intact through the end of the year.”

“We have long been admirers of your business and your commitment to the communities you serve,” they wrote in the email.”We look forward to our future together.”

When news reports surfaced earlier this month about a possible deal to sell the suburban newspapers, Wrapports CEO Timothy P. Knight told staff in a company-wide email: “I want to assure you that everything we do is to strengthen the company.”

On Friday, Knight reiterated those words.

“This transaction and our aggressive digital push will expand the Sun Times brand and ensure the Chicago Sun-Times is self-sustaining and financially healthy for the committed journalists who cover Chicagoland for one of the country’s great newspapers, ” Knight said.

Earlier this week, Wrapports announced the launch of the Sun Times Network, a mobile-first app network spanning 70 U.S. cities.