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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

SoftBank is among several possible buyers for newspaper publisher Tronc, Axios has learned from a source familiar with the situation. This comes just days after a NY Post report that private equity firm Apollo is also kicking Tronc's tires.

Why it matters: Financial buyers have mostly avoided newspapers in recent years, fearing they don't have the digital chops to offset declining print revenue.

The players

Apollo: Axios has confirmed Apollo's interest, but it's unclear how it will be affected by news late Friday that ex-Tronc chairman Michael Ferro will sell his entire 25.65% stake to privately-held McCormick Media. Ferro and Apollo co-founder Leon Black are said to be pals, and initial speculation was that Ferro was in some way facilitating Apollo's interest.

SoftBank: Fortress Investment Group, which SoftBank bought last year, is the external manager for the parent company of GateHouse Media, one of the country's largest newspaper chains.

Gannett: Tronc's peer also remains in the mix, and makes the most strategic sense (assuming you accept conventional wisdom that newspaper publishers need scale to survive).

News Corp: We're not hearing that there's serious interest here, but you should never count Rupert Murdoch out of an acquisition auction.

Patrick Soon-Shiong: The billionaire doctor already agreed to buy the L.A. Times and San Diego Tribune from Tronc for around $500 million. That deal still seems to be on track, although the Apollo leak may have been designed to ensure he doesn't force a downward renegotiation. The bigger question is why he paid so much for a piece when he could have had the rest for just another couple hundred million (including the Chicago Tribune). "No one can believe he didn't buy the whole thing," a source says.

Go deeper

Nathan Bomey, author of Closer
3 mins ago - Economy & Business

Biden’s face mask campaign requires more imports from China

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

American mask manufacturers are getting whiplash, having gone from sleepy sector to mission-critical industry overnight — only to see sales collapse before now being suddenly in demand again.

Why it matters: As the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 rages, health experts now say Americans need legitimate N95 or KN95 masks to best protect themselves — not widely available fakes or less effective cloth masks.

19 mins ago - World

Scoop: Ukraine tells senators post-invasion sanctions are no help

Zelensky. Photo: Johanna Geron/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told U.S. senators visiting Kyiv this week that waiting to impose sanctions on Russia until after an invasion is of no use to Ukraine, according to four sources familiar with the discussions.

Why it matters: The Senate is currently working on a major sanctions package to deter Russia from attacking Ukraine. Democrats and Republicans are united in their support for Ukraine, but divided over whether it would be more effective to sanction Russia now to signal resolve, or hold up the threat of future sanctions to demonstrate the high costs of an invasion.

Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Starbucks has dropped plans to require that U.S. workers get the COVID vaccine or submit to weekly testing, the company announced Tuesday in a memo to employees.

Why it matters: The company's decision comes in response to the Supreme Court's ruling last week to block the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.