The Los Angeles Times is officially under new ownership and editorial leadership and its staff is relieved.
Medical industry billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong on Monday took control of the paper through his company Nant Capital, which bought the L.A. Times, as well as the San Diego Union-Tribune and a handful of other local California dailies, from Tronc, formerly Tribune Co., for $500 million, plus an additional $90 million to assume worker pension costs.
The same day, Soon-Shiong named Norman Pearlstine, a veteran of Time, the Wall Street journal and Bloomberg, executive editor of the L.A. Times. Addressing the newsroom around noon, Soon-Shiong positioned the quick replacement of Jim Kirk, an Tronc implant, as an effort to move on quickly. “Let’s put the Tronc in the Trunk and be done,” L.A. Times’ national correspondent Matt Pearce quoted the new owner as saying, to resounding applause, in a Twitter post.
Although the sale went through some unexpected closing delays, it seems to have been worth the wait for current and former staffers who have experienced uncertainty and frequent cuts since Tribune in 2000 bought the company from the Chandler family.
L.A. Times’ former managing editor John Arthur took to Twitter on Sunday, when the closing date was announced, saying “you can’t overestimate” the meaning for the paper of a local owner who seems to see it as more than a profit-generator.
“This is a historic return to local ownership after the Chandlers betrayed Los Angeles and in 2000 sold the company down the river to the Tribune,” Arthur wrote. “Things were good for about five years. After that, things got bad, worse and nearly catastrophic.”
L.A. Times political reporter Seema Mehta wrote on Twitter that as staffers “celebrate” the sale to Soon-Shiong, staff photographer Francine Orr was rubbing graphite impressions of an eagle seal in the entry to the paper’s headquarters, erected in 1935. The office will be moving over the summer to a new headquarters in El Segundo, but no one is complaining. Allen Schaben, another photojournalist at the paper, simply thanked Soon-Shiong on Twitter “for supporting our mission and taking the helm.”
The celebration by staff included drinks at headquarters over the whole weekend, and news designer Betty Chavarria tagged a photo of about 30 colleagues with #freedom. Rebecca Keegan, who worked at the L.A. Times before becoming a correspondent for Vanity Fair, said the sale closing created “at long last, hopeful news for a great city and the hard-working journalists who cover it.”
Jim Puzzanghera, the paper’s Washington, D.C., business reporter said the sale offered “hope for one of the nation’s great news organizations for the first time in more than a decade.”
A lot of this positivity seems emboldened by Soon-Shiong’s lengthy Sunday note to readers, which included 700,000 print subscribers and started off by claiming his ownership was the start of a “new era” at the L.A. Times and the other papers he’s purchased from Tronc. He expressed a deep appreciation for the papers of his home state, or as he referred to them, “these storied institutions of democracy.”
“From today, our important work protecting and building on a rich history of independent journalism begins — with a sense of urgency and purpose,” Soon-Shiong wrote. “I believe that fake news is the cancer of our times and social media the vehicles for metastasis. Institutions like The Times and the Union-Tribune are more vital than ever.”
Although he acknowledged that the papers “must be run as a business,” Soon-Shiong said there will be investments in the group’s future, including print, which he personally enjoys, and even a possible push toward global.
“While ad-supported print publications will continue to feel the pressures occasioned by the digital era, we are confident that our print products will remain viable and vital,” he said. This is especially true for readers who, like myself, still enjoy the tactile and leisurely experience of a physical newspaper. Yet we are impatient and ambitious when it comes to introducing new products that will inform and delight local and global audiences.”
Soon-Shiong added that his decision to buy the papers from Tronc, something that group admittedly did not solicit, was “deeply personal.” He is a child of Chinese parents who fled during World War II to South Africa, where he worked as teenage “runner” during Apartheid for the nation’s Evening Post newspaper, which closed in 2000 after 50 years in operation. Soon-Shiong went on to study medicine in South Africa before completing his surgical training at UCLA and said Southern California gave him “unimaginable opportunities,” but that his youthful belief that “the best newspapers are the voice of the people” has not been changed by his many successes in business.
“We view the publications we acquired as a quasi-public trust,” Soon-Shiong added. “We understand they will be the voice and inspiration for our cities, our state, the nation and the world. We also understand the importance of editorial integrity and independence. We share our commitment to both with the talented journalists at our publications. They are our lifeblood.”
That’s sweet music to any journalists ears.
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