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AFL-CIO, Wary of Koch Money, Presses Tribune to Shelve Newspaper Sale

Stocks in this article: TRBAA NWSA

Nonetheless, Rees is pressing Tribune to hold off on an auction for its newspapers, valued in the company's 2012 reorganization plan at $623 million.

"Oaktree as short-term investors may want this transaction now whereas their clients, the pension plans, are longer-term investors who may benefit from continued ownership of these newspapers as they continue to adjust to market realities," Rees said in an interview on Thursday. "If the Kochs, who are certainly smart investors, were to be buyers here, that demonstrates there's still value to these media properties. From our standpoint, there may be greater profits to be had later on."

At a gathering Wednesday in Washington hosted by the Communications Workers of America-Newspaper Guild, union activists and critics of media consolidation stopped short of painting a sky-is-falling picture were the Koch brothers to buy Tribune's newspapers. Guild President Bernie Lunzer said he's refraining from Koch bashing, adding that there may even be opportunities to organize workers at these newspapers. (Currently, the Baltimore Sun is the only Tribune newspaper represented by the Guild.)

Nonetheless, John Nichols, the MSNBC personality and author of The Death and Life of American Journalism, argued that newspapers need owners who are committed to independent locally-focused reporting. A Koch buyout could result in newsrooms that either practice self-censorship to avoid conflict with their bosses, or newsgathering operations working lock-step with political organizations, he warned.

"I would much prefer that these great daily newspapers be sold to different people, and that they would all want to be out there competing with one another," Nichols said. "When one person can own all of those newspapers, we are looking at consolidation that hurts news gathering where it's needed most, at local and state levels."

More than 25,000 jobs have been cut at newspapers since 2008, Nichols said, citing the Web site PaperCuts. Online publications and cable-TV haven't come close to filling that void, he said.

The filmmaker Tia Lessin was also on hand to describe the Koch's purported effort to derail her film Citizen Koch, which follows a group of working-class Republicans in Wisconsin dismayed by the efforts of Koch-funded groups such as Americans for Prosperity to eliminate bargaining by public-sector labor unions.

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