LOS ANGELES – The owner of the Los Angeles Times is in talks to sell the newspaper to a billionaire medical entrepreneur.
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a major shareholder of parent company Tronc Inc., would pay $500 million for the newspaper and the San Diego Union-Tribune, a person with knowledge of the deal told the Associated Press after word of the sale was first reported by the Washington Post and Times.
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the sale hadn’t been finalized, said the deal was coming together quickly, but cautioned it could still fall apart.
The sale would come amid turmoil at the Times, which has had a series of publishers and top editors in recent years. Publisher Ross Levinsohn is on unpaid leave after revelations he was a defendant in two sexual harassment lawsuits at other companies. Journalists voted last month to unionize for the first time in the paper’s 136-year history.
Soon-Shiong, said by Forbes to be the nation’s richest doctor, made the bulk of his fortune selling two of the drug companies that he founded for a total of nearly $9 billion a decade ago. Forbes put his current wealth at $7.8 billion.
Soon-Shiong is currently working on a cure for cancer.
He owns more than a quarter of shares in Chicago-based Tronc, the company formerly known as Tribune Publishing. It owns 10 U.S. newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and New York Daily News.
Tronc did not issue any public statement about the deal and a spokeswoman for Soon-Shiong did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Word of the possible sale was met with cheers at the Times, according to reporters tweeting from the newsroom.
Soon-Shiong’s holdings include not only his Tronc stock but also a minority interest in the Los Angeles Lakers that he purchased in 2011 from Magic Johnson, the team’s former superstar and current president of basketball operations.
In an interview with the Times last year, Soon-Shiong declined to say if he planned to buy the newspaper, although he acknowledged that as a major stockholder he was unhappy with the way it was being run and felt a need to ensure its survival.
“I am concerned there are other agendas, independent of the newspaper’s needs or the fiduciary obligations to the viability of the organization,” he said at the time. “My goal is to try and preserve the integrity and the viability of the newspaper.”
If approved, the sale would come about a week after veteran Chicago journalist Jim Kirk was named editor in chief to replace Lewis D’Vorkin, whose short tenure was marked by clashes with staff.
Kirk, 52, became the third top editor at the Times in less than six months. He had briefly served in the job on an interim basis during a management overhaul from August until November, when D’Vorkin joined the paper.
Reporters at the Times have become alarmed by recent hiring of several news executives who reported to business executives – not to editors in the newsroom.
Those hires sparked fears that the business side would wield undue influence in editorial matters. Traditionally, the editorial and business sides of a paper work separately to maintain journalistic credibility.
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