In light of real estate guru Sam Zell's admission that his buyout of the Chicago Tribune had been a “mistake”, Warren Hellman's apparent interest in acquiring the San Francisco Chronicle seems a contrarian move. After all, it's not as if its recent results have bucked the t rend of the newspaper industry's struggling business model: current owner Hearst Corp revealed the Chronicle made a loss of $50 million in 2008 and would require deep cost cuts, possibly even closure.
However, Hellman is not necessarily motivated by profits. The Wall Street Journal reported that he had acted personally in organising a group of potential investors and civic leaders to discuss the newspaper's future – it has not been suggested that Hellman & Friedman, the private equity firm co-founded by Hellman, would be involved in any deal. He is known to be a keen advocate of the role newspapers play in a democratic society, and is thought to be interested in running the Chronicle as a not-for-profit entity.
As financier and supporter of the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, banjo enthusiast Hellman already has an established track record as a benefactor. Who better to lift the Chronicle out of the blues?