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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

Private colleges across America can't pay their bills

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Behind the scenes in colleges across the U.S., institutions are having trouble paying their bills.

Why it matters: There’s a reckoning coming in higher education — especially for smaller, private liberal arts schools — that’s been years in the making. In obvious ways, COVID accelerated some of the trends, but college finances have been hurting for a while.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
1 hour ago - Health

Special report: America's biggest hospitals vs. their patients

Expand chart
Data: JHU; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

More than a quarter of the 100 U.S. hospitals with the highest revenue sued patients over unpaid medical bills between 2018 and mid-2020, according to new research by Johns Hopkins University provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: The report suggests that, rather than being an anomaly, patient lawsuits are relatively common across the country and among the largest providers.

1 hour ago - Health

Most top hospitals charge a more than 5x markup

Expand chart
Data: JHU; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Some of the hospitals with the highest revenue in the country also have some of the highest prices, charging an average of 10 times more than the actual cost of the care they deliver, according to new research by Johns Hopkins University provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: Hospitals each determine their own charges, or list prices. While few patients ever pay those prices, due to negotiated insurance rates, they do affect the uninsured and, experts say, ultimately influence the overall price we all pay.