The The Los Angeles Times is reporting that biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong is nearing a deal to buy the failing Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Owning the Los Angeles Times would be a significant coup for Soon-Shiong, one of the city’s wealthiest men, raising his profile in the business, civic and cultural milieu of the nation’s second-largest city.
All this is comes at a time when the failing newspaper has experienced months of turmoil, starting in August when several top editors were ousted.
Ross Levinsohn, a former Yahoo and Fox executive, was appointed its new publisher and brought his own team to develop a new digital strategy. But last month, Levinsohn was placed on unpaid leave pending an investigation into sexual harassment claims that occurred at previous jobs.
There have been three top editors in the last six months, including Jim Kirk, who was named editor in chief last week. He replaced former Forbes editor Lewis D’Vorkin, whose tumultuous three-month tenure was marked by contentious dealings with staff members. Also last month, The Times’ newsroom, unhappy with corporate management and years of cost-cutting, overwhelmingly voted to join the News Guild-Communication Workers of America.
The Times’ newsroom has shrunk from more than 1,000 people in the late 1990s to fewer than 400 employees. There have been nine publishers since 1999.
Despite ongoing declines in print advertising — print revenue plummeted 17% in the first nine months of 2017 — the company continues to eke out a profit. For the quarter that ended Sept. 30, Tronc reported revenue of $353.1 million, a drop of 6.6% from a year earlier. Net income for the quarter was $2.1 million, compared with a net loss of $10.5 million in the year-earlier period.
Soon-Shiong, a medical entrepreneur and native of South Africa, had been rumored several years ago to be among a group of wealthy Angelenos who were interested in buying The Times. His interest in the paper was formalized in May 2016 when the biotech magnate invested $70.5 million in The Times’ parent company, then called Tribune Publishing and since renamed Tronc Inc., which stands for Tribune Online Content. His current stake is 26%. He also owns a minority stake in the Los Angeles Lakers.