Tribune goes private; Sam Zell named chairman and CEO

A colourful real-estate billionaire buys out one of the USA's hottest media properties, takes it private and says he can turn it around

The Tribune Company announced today that it has completed its going-private transaction by merging with an acquisition subsidiary of the Tribune Employee Stock Ownership Plan (Tribune ESOP). Sam Zell, who financed the transaction, becomes the chairman of the board and chief executive officer.

Under the terms of the merger agreement, the company's shares - except for those owned by the Tribune ESOP and shares held by shareholders who validly exercise appraisal rights - will be cashed out at $34 per share. The company's common stock ceased trading on the New York Stock Exchange at market close on Friday 21 December.

Samuel Zell visited the Chicago Tribune office on Thursday. ''I'm sick and tired of listening to everybody talk about and commiserate about the end of newspapers,'' he said. ''They ain't ended.''

At a news conference in Chicago to announce the event, billionaire real estate baron Zell was the quintessential businessman he is known to be; blunt, funny and thoroughly contrarian. He said of Tribune, ''I think it's a very low-risk investment, but this wouldn't be the first time that my opinion diverged from everybody else's.''

The transaction makes the Tribune a non-profit organisation owned entirely by an employee stock ownership plan. But Zell has the right to buy up to 40 per cent of it in the future. Tribune owns The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, Newsday, The Baltimore Sun and 23 television stations, among other properties.