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Tribune stock rises amid reports of possible bid from Gannett, others

CHICAGO (AP) - Tribune Co.'s stock rose modestly Monday amid reports that interest in buying the media conglomerate has stepped up, including a potential bid from Gannett Co., the nation's largest newspaper publisher.

Gannett's reported interest brings a large media player into the Tribune's possible sell-off for the first time and could provide significant competition to such confirmed bidders as Los Angeles billionaires Ronald Burkle and Eli Broad.

After opening 1.8 percent higher following the published reports, Tribune shares rose 43 cents, or 1.3 percent, to close at $32.46 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Media analyst Edward Atorino of The Benchmark Co. said interest by Gannett alters the Tribune situation and confirms its media assets are still prized within the industry.

''Gannett kicking the tires - that's serious stuff,'' he said. ''Gannett doesn't fool around.''

Gannett is the only newspaper company big enough to buy all of Tribune Co., Atorino said, but is likely just interested in buying Tribune television stations, with a stable of newspapers that is focused mainly on smaller cities than Tribune's.

Gannett executives visited Chicago last week and listened to presentations on Tribune Co.'s financial situation, the Chicago Tribune reported, citing two unidentified sources. The Wall Street Journal reported on the visit by Gannett executives on Monday, a day after the Tribune's initial report.

The Journal also said Tribune had informal discussions with MediaNews Group Inc., owner of the San Jose Mercury News, The Denver Post and The Detroit News, about certain Tribune assets, including the Hartford Courant.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Gannett could bid for Tribune's newspaper properties, while the Journal reported that Gannett is interested in the entire company. Tribune's holdings also include the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Cubs, WGN-TV and several other media outlets. Tribune has said it will decide whether to sell all or parts of the company by the end of the year.

Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell and Tribune Co. spokesman Gary Weitman both declined to comment.

''As we outlined in a press release on Sept. 28, the board plans to make an announcement when the strategic review process is complete, which is expected before the end of the year,'' Weitman said Monday. ''Until the board makes its announcement, we'll have no comment.''

Gannett, which is based in McLean, Va., publishes 90 U.S. newspapers, including USA Today.

In response to unhappiness with its lagging stock price and sagging fortunes, Tribune signaled its willingness to sell all or part of the company in September.

Tribune has since contacted Gannett, MediaNews Group, Hearst Corp., and has been in touch with News Corp., which has expressed interest in Newsday, the Journal reported.

MediaNews and News Corp. declined comment.

Several investor groups have expressed interest in the company and submitted preliminary, nonbinding bids.

Other possible buyers include Burkle and Broad, who had separately expressed interest in buying the Los Angeles Times, but made a joint offer last Wednesday for the entire company.

The New York Times reported Monday that Maurice ''Hank'' Greenberg, former chairman of insurer American International Group Inc., has been contacting investment bankers and lawyers about pursuing a possible offer for Tribune or another newspaper company such as The Boston Globe or perhaps Dow Jones & Co.

Greenberg spokesman Mark Corallo confirmed the 81-year-old Greenberg's interest in media companies Monday but declined to elaborate.

''Mr. Greenberg is exploring several options involving media companies,'' Corallo said. ''But we cannot get into details.''

Greenberg was forced to resign his AIG post in March 2005 amid an accounting scandal. The Times, citing unidentified people close to Greenberg, said he also has put out feelers about joining other investors.