By Munsif Vengattil and Akanksha Rana
(Reuters) - Newspaper chain MNG Enterprises Inc , controlled by secretive hedge fund Alden Global Capital LLC, on Monday offered to buy Gannett Co Inc in a $1.36 billion deal to add the USA Today and scores of other newspapers to its stable of regional publications.
MNG, better known as Digital First Media, said it had approached Gannett's board and management on multiple occasions about a potential combination, but the latter had not "meaningfully engaged".
Alden Global started buying distressed newspapers a decade ago and now owns newspapers ranging from the Denver Post to the San Jose Mercury News, and has been criticized by the publications it has acquired for ruthless cost-cutting, asset sales and job cuts.
MNG, one of the largest newspaper holding companies in the United States, owns more than 200 publications. Buying Gannett would give it access to about 100 more newspapers, including the Detroit Free Press.
The USA Today is the largest circulated daily newspaper in the United States, according to a list by market research firm Cision Media Research. (https://cisn.co/2CPBNXO)
MNG, which holds a 7.5 percent stake in Gannett, said it will offer $12 per Gannett share, representing a premium of 23 percent to the company's close on Friday. Gannett's shares rose 18 percent to $11.52 in afternoon trading.
Like other newspapers, Gannett is struggling with a fall in revenue and has invested millions to scale up its digital footprint. It is also in the middle of a management shuffle, with Chief Executive Officer Robert Dickey slated to retire in May this year.
"I think the offer is a little opportunistic, given the fact that there are some leadership changes at the company and that it had guided towards some pretty weak fundamentals in the fourth quarter," said Michael Kupinski, an analyst with Noble Financial Capital Markets.
The company said it would review the proposal, which comes three years after Gannett abandoned https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tronc-m-a-gannett-co/gannett-tronc-end-merger-talks-terms-not-acceptable-idUSKBN12W441 its plan to merge with Tribune Publishing Co, formerly Tronc Inc, the publisher of the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun.
MNG on Monday also urged Gannett to hire an investment bank to conduct a review of options, including a potential sale, and opposed its digital acquisition strategy.
Alden's website is non-operational and its top executives Randall Smith and Heath Freeman have rarely given public interviews. Reuters could not locate an email address for the hedge fund, and it did not respond to calls.
An MNG spokesman declined to comment.
(Reporting by Munsif Vengattil and Akanksha Rana in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)