The Reader's publisher seeks a buyer | Bleader

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Reader's publisher seeks a buyer

Posted By on 03.13.12 at 01:00 PM

Chicago Reader publisher Alison Draper
  • Chicago Reader publisher Alison Draper
Yes, it's true that the Reader is for sale—as first Crain's Chicago Business and now the Tribune have reported. It has always been for sale—its owner, Atalaya Capital Management, a New York-based hedge fund, acquires properties to sell them. And Bulkley Capital of Dallas has managed the unloading process for Atalaya ever since Atalaya took over the Reader in 2009. But interest in selling—and buying—the Reader has heated up in recent weeks, and doing a deal is no longer on Bulkley's shoulders alone. The Reader's publisher, Alison Draper, tells me she decided not to sit back and watch deal makers in distant states decide this newspaper's future.

With Atalaya's permission, Draper says, she recently began to look for a buyer herself. "Long-term vision is essential," she says. And that, in her view, requires a permanent owner who meets four criteria.

She's looking for someone who is local; who understands and values the Reader and its place in Chicago; who grasps digital technology, appreciates the central role it must play in the Reader's future, and is prepared to invest in it; and who has deep pockets. She's approached two possible buyers who in her view meet this description, and on Monday she heard from three other parties who'd read the Crain's article and didn't want Atalaya selling this paper to anyone else before they got a chance to kick the tires.

"I am very encouraged by what has surfaced," says Draper. Other inquiries made in response to the Crain's piece were received by Bulkley; one was from a party Draper hadn't contacted yet but had on her short list. It isn’t important to Draper, who’s coordinating what she does with Bulkley, which of them potential buyers contact first; she just wants to be sure the right ones get to the table.

Tribune reporter Robert Channick reiterated what Crain's Lynne Marek reported the day before, which was that the owners of the Sun-Times have talked to Bulkley about buying the Reader. "Sources" speculated to Channick that the owners were "interested in acquiring the Reader for its entertainment news," Channick wrote. That's the kind of outcome that sets teeth on edge here: proud as everyone is of the Reader's entertainment and cultural coverage, the Reader is the sum of many more parts than that.

At a staff meeting Monday afternoon, someone asked Draper if, at the end of the day, and despite the highfalutin lip service everyone pays to the Reader ethos, Atalaya wouldn't sell the Reader to the highest bidder. The question, I suppose, is close to rhetorical; yet the more bidders in the field the greater the likelihood that someone will bid more out of a loftier idea of what they'd be getting.

In addition to being the Reader's publisher, Draper holds the title of vice president and group publisher of the three papers—in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Chicago—that Atalaya retains from the Creative Loafing chain it took over three years ago as Creative Loafing emerged from bankruptcy. Atalaya had been Creative Loafing's primary creditor.

"My number one priority is a successful outcome for the Chicago Reader," says Draper.

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