Tronc is selling the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune and several other papers that are part of its California News Group, to Patrick Soon-Shiong, a biotech billionaire who is currently Tronc’s second-largest shareholder. The company had resisted several earlier offers to either be acquired or sell its California papers, saying that they were a key part of its growth stragegy.
Soon-Shiong is paying $500 million in cash for the papers, in addition to assuming $90 million in pension liabilities. The move puts the L.A. Times ownership back in local hands for the first time since Tribune Publishing (which was renamed Tronc, or “Tribune Online Content” in 2016) bought the paper in 2000.
Tronc plans to use the $500 million it will receive to repay the company’s outstanding debt, in addition to reducing its pension liabilities and bolstering its cash position. The company will also remain the owner of the Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Baltimore Sun and New York Daily News.
Several former Times executives will take the helm of a new division of Tronc, to be called Tribune Interactive. Times publisher Ross Levinsohn, who sat out the last few months while charges of sexual misconduct against him were investigated, will lead the division. Times president Mickie Rosen will now be president of Tribune Interactive and Lewis D’Vorkin, who was ousted as the paper’s editor last week, has been named chief content officer of the new division.
Both the Times and Union-Tribune have gone through a rocky period—the Times with three editors in less than six months, and the Union-Tribune operating under four owners in the last decade. While both papers have faced the same challenges that confront most daily papers, the Times says that it has added more than 200,000 digital subscribers in the last 18 months.
In addition to his purchase of the California papers, Soon-Shiong is also chief executive of healthcare tech company NantHealth and holds a minority stake in the Los Angeles Lakers. “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 papers,” he said in a statement.