Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe
Jeremy Halbreich, chairman and interim CEO of the Sun-Times Media Group called me Wednesday evening to confirm something I'd heard — that heads of the media group various unions will meet Thursday afternoon with Ted Rilea, vice president for labor relations.
But he said the reason for the meeting is nothing special. I was hearing speculation that the union chiefs might meet the next owner, James Tyree, chairman and CEO of Mesirow Financial, who's leading a group of two or three dozen possibly buyers who have been kicking the tires of the media group for months now. And if not that, they might get told the concessions that Tyree (or someone else) demands of them before he'll make a formal offer.
Nothing so dramatic, said Halbreich.
"I can assure you, they are not going to be meeting anyone tomorrow who is not part of the company," he told me. Nor will they be asked to surrender another pound of flesh. The union heads will simply get another in a series of "periodic updates," in line with "my pledge to all employees that we'll continue to communicate with them," Halbreich said.
He continued, "I remain very optimistic. And I think there’s a possibility we may be in a position to get something done pretty soon." But he wouldn't say with whom, and he wouldn't define "pretty soon." He told me he was silenced by confidentiality agreements.
What kind of progress are you making? I wondered. I'd been told earlier in the day by someone in the Sun-Times newsroom that the place buzzed last week with the rumor that an announcement was imminent. There was no announcement. Is it steady progress? Fitful progress? Two steps forward and one step back?
"Some of it's steady, some of it's fitful. It's progress," Halbreich said.
He doesn't have a lot of time. The Tribune reported August 22 that at the rate the media group was burning through its cash, it was close to being "administratively insolvent" — in the words of one restructuring expert.
Meanwhile, the six-day-a-week Southtown Star, one of the media group's hundred-some titles, has just converted to a tabloid format, and I hear the handful of remaining titles that are not yet tabs will undergo the same conversion. There's no reason to go to the trouble and expense for papers that are about to disappear anyway, so I view the process as reason for optimism.