Gannett isn't giving up on buying Tribune Publishing. Credit: Sun-Times

Tribune Publishing countered Gannett’s bid for control of the company by adopting a “poison pill” strategy Monday: if Gannett (or any other corporate raider) acquires more than 20 percent of the stock, existing shareholders will be able to buy preferred shares at a big discount, thus driving down the value of the raider’s new holdings. 

“We are not going to let this noise from Gannett distract us,” said chairman Michael Ferro.

Gannett was quick to respond. “It is unfortunate that instead of engaging with Gannett to negotiate a mutually agreeable transaction that is in the best interests of all Tribune stockholders, Tribune is putting up another roadblock to prevent its stockholders from realizing compelling, immediate and certain cash value for their investment. The decision to implement a poison pill is yet another demonstration that Tribune’s Board and management team are not listening to its stockholders.”

One stockholder with a voice too loud to ignore is Oaktree Capital, which holds more Tribune Publishing stock than anyone but Ferro. Oaktree said in a recent SEC filing that “it would be in the best interests” of Tribune and its shareholders for Tribune to talk to Gannett “to see if an acceptable agreement can be reached.”

What’s more, Oaktree let it be known it intended to lobby other “significant stockholders” and that this lobbying “may result in a plan for common action.”

But will the big shareholders gang up against Ferro? Can a poison pill put a stop to that?