Sun-Times owner sells 38 suburban papers to Tribune Publishing as company pushes into digital

The parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times announced Friday it has sold six daily newspapers and 32 weeklies in the Chicago suburbs to Tribune Publishing Co., casting the sale as an effort to more forcefully move into digital media.

Sun-Times owner Wrapports LLC said the deal will allow it to focus on its new Sun-Times Network, which launched Friday and centers on a mobile news app tailored to local audiences in 70 U.S. cities. The sale also will financially strengthen the Chicago Sun-Times, the company said. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"This transaction and our aggressive digital push will expand the Sun Times brand and ensure the Chicago Sun-Times is self-sustaining and financially healthy," Wrapports CEO Timothy Knight said in a statement.

The strategy shifts the media landscape in one of the country's last two-newspaper towns, where the Sun-Times has grappled with declining circulation. Financial hits and changes in direction have resulted in multiple rounds of layoffs, including of its entire photo staff last year, and led to a 2009 filing for bankruptcy protection.

"Basically what they're saying is that they're moving as much they can out of the print side of the business to try to move into being a digital news brand that's recognized not only in Chicago but around the country," said Alan Mutter, who runs the Newsosaur blog and teaches at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.

Wrapports announced earlier this week that the mobile news app would present national entertainment, sports and political coverage from the Sun-Times along with items aggregated from other media sites in each local market.

Its success will depend on whether it can draw enough eyeballs in places where there's less familiarity with the Sun-Times brand and where there's already a plethora of news aggregators and other media sites, Mutter said.

"I have concerns about whether they can actually bring this to sufficient scale to make this into a business," he said.

Tribune Publishing said buying the papers, which include the Aurora Beacon-News, The Naperville Sun and The Southtown Star, will help the company expand its "hyper local" news content, diversify revenue sources and draw more advertisers.

"These are great brands. They are engrained in the communities that they are in," said Bob Fleck, who will oversee the new papers as publisher and general manager.