After the high bid was blocked by a buzzer-beating antitrust court order, second-place bidder Digital First Media will acquire a news outlet that went bankrupt because, ironically, it didn't put digital media first.

Freedom Communications, parent company of bankrupted The Orange County Register, will call on a federal judge to approve the sale of the newspaper and with sister publication, The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California.

The company, which hopes to close the sale by the March 31 deadline, will file a motion Monday, at a 9:00 a.m. hearing before federal bankruptcy judge Mark Wallace.

"We're going to go in and ask the judge on Monday to approve (Digital First Media) as the successful bidder," said Freedom Communications attorney William Lobel.

Tribune Publishing, parent of the Los Angeles Times, may not have time to fight the antitrust court order and acquire The Orange County Register before the March 31 deadline. But the court order, blocking Tribune Publishing from owning four of the largest newspapers in the region, is in the best interest of the public, reasoned U.S. District Court Judge Andre Birotte Jr. in his decision.

"It may be that Tribune will lose the opportunity to acquire the Register and Press-Enterprise in favor of the second-place bidder," Birotte wrote. "However, this private harm does not outweigh the public interest in the preservation of competition, especially given the government's likelihood of success on the merits."

Tribune Publishing would hold an estimated 98 percent of the sale of English-language daily newspapers in Orange County and about 81 percent in Riverside County, according to the Department of Justice.

With its $56 million bid, Tribune Publishing won the auction for the troubled pair of newspapers and Digital First Media came in second place with a bid of $45.5 million.

Before the Justice Department successfully blocked the sale to Tribune Publishing, a spokesperson for the media company reasoned that it wasn't competition that nearly killed The Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise.

"The Division is living in a time capsule, with a framework that predates the arrival of iPhones, Google, Facebook and modern media outlets that are killing the traditional newspaper industry," read a statement from Tribune Publishing spokeswoman Dana Meyer. "It wasn't competition from the L.A. Times that forced the Register into bankruptcy. It was the Internet and related technology."

Photo: Beth Cortez-Neavel | Flickr

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