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Chicago's Paper Trails

Chicago's days as a two-newspaper town are numbered, a condition that became apparent probably as early as the second half of 2008. The Tribune Co. ran out of time selling the Chicago Cubs and finally had to file for bankruptcy protection in December. But the Sun-Times may be the paper in bigger trouble financially, as it's stuck in the netherworld of penny stocks.

Finally, some good news for the Trib. On Thursday, Chicago financier Tom Ricketts was selected the winner of the Cubs bidding war. Ricketts will pay $900 million for the Cubs and historic Wrigley Field - though the transfer must still be approved by Major League Baseball owners. He will have 60-90 days to close the deal.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Ricketts is a pretty solid buyer even in today's economic climate:

However, people involved in the auction say Mr. Ricketts emerged as the frontrunner in part because he appeared to be the bidder most likely to finalize a deal -- an important factor for Tribune, which is in dire need of cash as it grapples with a huge debt load and a downturn in its core newspaper assets, including the Los Angeles Times. Mr. Ricketts' offer included 50 percent of the purchase price in cash, with the rest financed. The other offers included more debt.

If the deal is approved, it should help the Tribune Co. to start working with the bankruptcy court to pay back its creditors. In the original filing, the Cubs sale was left out of the bankruptcy process to smooth the way for the sale. The Cubs package was originally priced at around $1 billion.

While the Tribune may be on the road to recovery, the Sun-Times' future remains as in doubt as ever. The paper's stocks are worth about 8 cents a share. Just last week, a boardroom coup resulted in the change of almost the entire management structure. Currently, the Sun-Times is reported to be burning through $20 million in cash each quarter.

Writing in his blog "Reflections of a Newsosaur," former Sun-Times city editor Alan Mutter has a two-part series detailing the demise of the paper in all its excruciating details over the past quarter century. According to Mutter, this is how it all began:

I can tell you exactly when the spell of bad luck began, because I was there.

The year was 1984 and I stepped into the elevator near the newsroom for the short, four-story ride to the first floor. The only other person in the elevator was the then-publisher of the paper, Marshall Field V, who I, the mere city editor, barely knew.

"Don't worry," volunteered Marshall, who never had spoken to me in his life. "I would never sell the paper to Rupert Murdoch."

That's when I realized the paper was about to be sold to Rupert Murdoch. Within days, I proved to be right.

And former Sun-Times sports columnist Jay Mariotti, in an exclusive interview with RealClearSports, couldn't wait to perform the last rites:

It's my life, not theirs. I wrote 5,000 columns for them in 17 years. I wrote on holidays, spent massive amounts of time away from home. Roger Ebert, whom I've met once, can kiss my ass. No one gave more blood to that place than I did, and if I decide it's going to die an imminent death, it's my call. And based on events of the last four months, I couldn't have been more accurate. The place is dead.