Amid all the chatter about who may buy the Telegraph Group, the names one hears most often are those of the Daily Mail group, the Express group and Richard Desmond, and the Barclay Brothers. Occasionally various venture capitalists are also mentioned. The one company that is hardly taken seriously, though it appears on most lists of possible bidders, is the American publisher Gannett. And yet Gannett, it seems, is in pole position to buy Hollinger International, whose main titles are the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post and last, though not least, The Spectator.
It is not obvious why Gannett should have been virtually ignored by media watchers. The company is the biggest US newspaper and broadcast group, although the only newspaper of any notoriety it owns in America is USA Today. It is also highly acquisitive, and has scooped up dozens of American regional newspapers over the past five years. In this country it bought Newsquest, the second biggest provincial newspaper group, in 1999, and the Scottish Media Group, publisher of the Herald and Evening Times in Glasgow, last year. Gannett is deadly serious about acquiring Hollinger’s titles.
There are several reasons for regarding it as the most likely victor. In the first place it is bigger and more profitable than any of the other bidders, and may well be in a position to pay the largest amount of money. It is able to bid for all of Hollinger’s titles, and not just the British publications. This is attractive to Hollinger since there might be tax liabilities if the newspapers were sold off separately. Perhaps Gannett’s strongest card is that, unlike the Daily Mail group and Richard Desmond, it would not face regulatory hassles in this country.