Tronc's Sale Of 'LA Times' Set To Close, Bringing End To Newsroom Crisis
The Los Angeles Times will soon have a new home and a new lease on life — far from the current Chicago-based corporate ownership that has engendered a series of crises there.
The sale of the Times by parent company Tronc to billionaire California inventor and investor Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong could be announced as soon as Monday morning, three people with knowledge of the deal tell NPR. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the transaction. The finalization of the deal was first reported by NPR on social media.
The sale would end an especially contentious chapter in the roller-coaster history of one of the nation's leading news organizations, a tale replete with a successful unionization drive and newsroom backlashes against both the publisher and editor whom Tronc installed to run the Times last year.
As previously disclosed, the transaction was to include $500 million in cash and the assumption of $90 million in pension liabilities for Times and its Southern Californian sister paper, The San Diego Union Tribune. Some related suburban and community papers are also to be part of the deal. Tronc officials initially said the deal would go through by late March or early April. But negotiations between Tronc and Soon-Shiong, Tronc's second-biggest investor, soon slowed to a crawl. Representatives for both Tronc and Soon-Shiong declined to comment for this story.
In his few past public remarks about his ambitions for the paper, Soon-Shiong has said he intends to restore the 136-year-old Times to its position of journalistic and civic glory. The surgeon, inventor, entrepreneur, philanthropist and minority owner of the Los Angeles Lakers has also created a modern new headquarters for the paper on the west side of Los Angeles.
Soon-Shiong has pledged to put the influential paper on sounder financial footing. Since its acquisition in 2000 by the then-Tribune Co., the Times has been subjected to one round of cuts after another; its journalism team is about a third of what it was at the paper's height.
Tribune's newspaper holdings were spun off and, in 2016, became Tronc, under which the Times suffered from a crisis of confidence in the newsroom. Tronc promised a digital reinvention so vast it threatened to sideline the traditions of hard-hitting journalism that the newsroom had been fighting to maintain despite the deep cuts.
In late 2017, executives, including then newly installed publisher Ross Levinsohn and new Editor-in-Chief Lewis D'Vorkin, declined to defend articles scrutinizing local tax breaks given to the Walt Disney Co. when Disney executives objected to the coverage. Disney reacted by blacklisting Times reporters and critics from screenings of its studios' new films.
D'Vorkin further alienated staffers by accusing them of disloyalty and possible criminal activity for leaking recorded remarks from a staff meeting he had with reporters. Much of the newsroom's rank and file, and almost all its editorial leadership, signed open letters to Tronc calling for the dismissal of Levinsohn after NPR raised questions about his past workplace conduct and revealed two sexual harassment lawsuits in which he had been named as one of several defendants. Both lawsuits were settled by prior employers.
Levinsohn was put on leave and eventually cleared, though the company didn't offer any details. He was named CEO of Tronc's digital efforts when the deal to sell the Times to Soon-Shiong was disclosed. Since then, Times journalists have tweeted their trepidation over how long the deal had taken to be consummated.
In March, Tronc's controlling owner, Michael Ferro, resigned as the company's chairman on the same day Fortune magazine published the account of two women who say he sexually harassed them. He later announced that he had struck an agreement to sell his stake. But those buyers, led by a distant relative of the legendary former owner of the Tribune Co., could not come up with the financing. And so Ferro retained his holding in the company. Ken Doctor's Newsonomics blog reported that Ferro was pressuring Soon-Shiong to buy all of Tronc, which includes major regional dailies such as the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, the New York Daily News and a host of other smaller regional papers.
But this weekend's deal remains limited to the Southern California publications in which Soon-Shiong, who lives in Los Angeles, and his family took a personal interest, according to the people knowledgeable about the deal.