The Los Angeles Times, one of the country’s most prominent newspapers whose reporting has exposed municipal corruption, felled local figures and chronicled California’s relentless natural disasters, is being sold to Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire Los Angeles doctor, for $500 million.
Tronc, the newspaper’s parent company, announced the agreement, which includes the paper’s sister publication, The San Diego Union-Tribune, on Wednesday morning. The deal includes the assumption of $90 million in pension liabilities. It is expected to be completed within three months.
With the sale, The Los Angeles Times would once again come under local ownership, ending nearly two decades of corporate control. It would also represent a significant retreat for Tronc, which entertained national and international ambitions after Michael W. Ferro Jr. became the company’s chairman and biggest shareholder two years ago.
Its decision to sell The Los Angeles Times, its crown jewel, comes after months of turmoil and management turnover at the paper, during which journalists increasingly clashed with Tronc executives and the leaders they had sent to run the paper’s newsroom.
“We are pleased to transition leadership of The Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune to local ownership,” Justin Dearborn, the Tronc chief executive, said in a statement. “We are certain that the journalistic excellence in Southern California will continue long into the future.”
Soon-Shiong became a major shareholder in Tronc, formerly called Tribune Publishing, in 2016 as the company and Ferro tried to stave off a takeover attempt by Gannett, the publisher of USA Today. Soon-Shiong was also named Tronc’s vice chairman at the time.
In an interview with The New York Times at the time of the investment, Soon-Shiong — who grew up in apartheid South Africa and largely made his fortune selling generic drugs and developing a new type of cancer treatment — said he considered newspapers a “public trust” and wanted to preserve them. His relationship with Ferro, however, soon deteriorated, leading to Soon-Shiong’s removal from Tronc’s board last year.
“We look forward to continuing the great tradition of award-winning journalism carried out by the reporters and editors of The Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune and the other California News Group titles,” Soon-Shiong said on Wednesday in a statement.
With his purchase, Soon-Shiong would become the latest wealthy businessman to take ownership of a struggling newspaper in a big city, following Jeff Bezos with The Washington Post, John Henry with The Boston Globe and Sheldon Adelson with The Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Tronc, which is headquartered in Chicago, will most likely use the sale proceeds to pay down its debt and invest in a digital transformation. It is unclear whether the company will try to sell any of its other papers. In addition to The Los Angeles Times and The Union-Tribune, Tronc’s newspaper portfolio includes The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The New York Daily News and The Orlando Sentinel.