Several potential bidders are interested in buying Harbinger Capital Partners's 20 percent stake in The New York Times Co, The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.
Several suitors have approached Harbinger about buying the stake, one of the largest in the Times, but it is unclear whether the investment fund is interested in selling, the Journal reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.
Interest has grown as Harbinger, which bought the shares as part of a campaign against the Times to change its business, reels from losses in its funds, the Journal reported.
Harbinger bought the Times stake over a period of weeks in 2007 and 2008, eventually pouring more than $500 million into the publisher. Since then, Times shares have fallen along with other newspapers, which are fighting for their lives as advertising revenue slumps.
Harbinger's stake is worth less than $160 million now.
A Harbinger spokesman did not return a message seeking comment. A New York Times spokeswoman declined to comment.
The news comes as the Times is threatened by heavy debt and falling ad revenue. It also says that it might close The Boston Globe, which is on course to lose $85 million this year. It also is trying to sell other properties such as its stake in the holding company that owns the Boston Red Sox baseball team.
Some of those moves are ones that Harbinger urged when it launched a proxy battle against the Times. In 2008, the Times defused the battle by expanding its board to allow two Harbinger-sponsored nominees to join.
It is not the first time that a dissident shareholder has tried to force The New York Times Co to change its business practices. Nevertheless, control of the company rests with the Ochs-Sulzberger family, which holds a special class of shares as well as a large piece of the public shareholder pie.
It is unclear what would happen to the board seats if Harbinger sold its shares.
Also unclear is who would buy the Times. The Times has been the target of increasing speculation that the family that has controlled it since 1896 might sell it.
To shore up its finances, it has borrowed money from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, who now controls a nearly 17 percent stake in the company. Slim, Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr told shareholders at its annual meeting this week, has not sought to influence the company or board.
Sulzberger said that he does not intend to take the company private. His cousin, Vice Chairman Michael Golden, told Reuters on Thursday that the company is not for sale.
Other names mentioned in press reports as being possible suitors for the Times include Bloomberg LP, which competes with Thomson Reuters Corp in providing financial news and data; and Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of media conglomerate News Corp, which bought The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones & Co in 2007.
(Reporting by Robert MacMillan; Editing by Eric Walsh)