Murdoch voices doubts on Tribune

Mogul comments on Chandler family's future

Rupert Murdoch said Thursday that he doubts the Chandler family will successfully take over Tribune Co.

“I don’t really believe it’s going to happen,” he said at a Gotham media conference, even as Tribune, separately, announced strong quarterly results.

Profit jumped 80% to $240 million; revenue rose 5.4% to $1.47 billion.

Murdoch expressed his doubts even while acknowledging he’d like the deal to go through. He’s a minority partner with the Chandlers and is hoping to create a joint operating agreement between News Corp.’s New York Post and Tribune’s Newsday.

Tribune put itself up for sale last year. It’s pondering strategic options and has promised an announcement by the end of March. The Chandlers and several other groups have made offers, but none seems particularly appetizing.

Tribune also could opt to stay the course or to split up its businesses itself, without changing hands.

“The process has been rigorous, thorough, and as you might imagine, we look forward to its completion so we can spend 100% of our time focused on the future,” Tribune chairman-CEO Dennis FitzSimons said during a conference call.

Trib’s newspaper publishing saw revenue rise 4% to $1.1 billion and profits jump 30% to $225 million.

Broadcasting and entertainment revenue grew 11% to $356 million.

Gains came in large part from cost cuts. Trib’s aggressive slashing will put it over its $200 million goal for savings in 2007 and 2008, FitzSimons said.

Cost cuts at the Los Angeles Times had turned the paper, one of Trib’s most valuable assets, into a lightning rod for the future of newspapers — and how they can cover news effectively when resources keep shrinking.

Top editors have quit in protest of the cuts — or been pushed out.

Los Angeles billionaires Ron Burkle and Eli Broad have teamed up to try to buy Tribune; David Geffen put in a bid for the Times alone.

Tribune owns 11 newspapers, 23 TV stations and the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

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