House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is urging the US Justice Department to relax its antitrust rules in a move that could signal a plan to merge the San Francisco Chronicle with the Oakland Tribune and its sister papers, the San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times. The Chron has been losing more than $50 million a year and its owners, the Hearst Corporation, have indicated they want to sell the paper. But any merger between the Chron and its MediaNews-owned rivals in the Bay Area would likely face an antitrust problem with the federal DOJ.
According to today's Chron, Pelosi met last week with Hearst executives, including former Chron editor Phil Bronstein, to discuss the future of the paper. Pelosi then sent a letter to the DOJ, asking it to relax its view of antitrust rules involving the Chronicle. If the DOJ agrees, it could open the door to a merger - or to MediaNews buying the Bay Area's largest daily outright. Hearst and MediaNews already are ownership partners in papers outside the Bay Area.