Tronc, the publisher of The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune, is in late-stage conversations with Wenner Media to acquire the celebrity magazine Us Weekly, according to a person briefed on the talks.
Tronc and Wenner, which also publishes Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal, are negotiating a price of more than $100 million for Us Weekly, according to the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal talks are private. The talks are in progress, and a deal could fail.
In 2006, Wenner spent $300 million to buy back the 50 percent share in Us Weekly it sold to the Walt Disney Company for $40 million five years earlier. Wenner still makes significant debt payments each year stemming from the loan it used to fund the transaction.
For Wenner, selling Us Weekly would be a further paring of its holdings. Last year, it sold a 49 percent stake in Rolling Stone, a music and popular culture magazine, to BandLab Technologies, a Singapore-based music tech company led by the son of an Asian business magnate. At the time, Rolling Stone, founded by Jann S. Wenner in 1967, said the deal was intended to help the magazine expand into new markets and strengthen its brand internationally. The company used $25 million from the $40 million deal for a special payment on its loan, according to credit reports.
The pursuit of Us Weekly is a notable role reversal for Tronc, the newspaper publisher formerly known as Tribune Publishing, which rebuffed a takeover attempt from the Gannett Company last year after a long public battle.
Us Weekly would dovetail with the interests of Michael W. Ferro Jr., a Chicago technology entrepreneur and Tronc’s nonexecutive chairman, who has long been enamored with celebrity coverage. Last year, Tronc bought the domain name LA.com, with plans to publish profiles of celebrities and others with influence on the site.
After Mr. Ferro and others in Chicago bought The Chicago Sun-Times in 2011, he told some reporters that he wanted the newspaper to focus more on celebrity coverage. Mr. Ferro donated his stake in The Sun-Times to a charitable trust last year to assuage antitrust concerns.
Spokeswomen for Tronc and Wenner declined to comment. The talks were reported earlier by The New York Post.
It has not been easy going for Wenner Media recently, and questions have arisen about its fate. In November, Rolling Stone lost a defamation lawsuit over a 2014 article about a suspected gang rape at the University of Virginia. The article received widespread condemnation after it was published, and Rolling Stone had already retracted it and removed it from its website. The magazine still faces another lawsuit related to the article.
On a broader level, the celebrity magazine category has suffered in the digital age. Newsstand sales for Us Weekly were down roughly 30 percent in the second half of 2016 compared with the same period a year earlier, according to publisher’s statements filed with the Alliance for Audited Media.
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