Tribune Publishing, which owns The Chicago Tribune, The Daily News and seven other metropolitan dailies, added substantially to its digital subscribers and digital revenue last year, the newspaper chain said on Thursday in its first earnings release since it announced a deal last month to be purchased by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital.
Tribune also said that it had increased its cash holdings over the year by $36.7 million, to nearly $100 million, and lowered its total operating expenses by more than $138 million.
In the fourth quarter, Tribune’s advertising revenue dipped more than $32 million compared with the same quarter of 2019, a stark decline partly attributable to the coronavirus pandemic, while its overall subscription revenue fell $3.1 million even as revenue from digital subscriptions grew by $5.4 million.
Last month, Tribune and Alden announced that Alden would buy the 68 percent of the company’s shares it did not already own at a valuation of $630 million, assuming two-thirds of Tribune’s remaining shareholders approve the deal. Alden already owns dozens of papers across the country through a subsidiary, MediaNews Group.
Terry Jimenez, who was named Tribune’s chief executive in February 2020, pointed in a news release to the company’s digital gains as part of its effort to mitigate “the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic” and position Tribune “for a successful future.”
Tribune gained approximately 102,000 digital subscribers in 2020, a 30.5 percent rise, bringing its total to 436,000, the company said. Digital revenue, including both digital advertising and subscriptions, grew by $16.5 million, or 57 percent.
“The steps we took over the course of the year to rationalize our cost structure, significantly reduce future obligations, pursue digital growth and invest in high-quality content enabled Tribune to create a platform to succeed for years to come,” Mr. Jimenez said.
Alden already owns a 32 percent stake in Tribune, which it acquired in late 2019. The hedge fund, which is based in Manhattan, is known for cutting costs at newspapers it owns in order to increase profit margins. In January 2020, Tribune offered buyouts widely. After the pandemic arrived in the United States, it permanently cut some employees’ pay, instituted furloughs and also shuttered several of its papers’ offices.
Tribune said that, in deference to the Alden deal, it would not hold a conference call to discuss the earnings announcement.