LOS ANGELES (CN) – A Los Angeles doctor who also holds a large of number of shares of the LA Times’ parent company struck a deal Wednesday to buy the paper for $500 million and its sister newspaper in San Diego.
The $500 million deal severs the Los Angeles Times from Chicago-based publisher Tronc, capping off a noisy relationship between it and the newspaper.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times newsroom published a story Tuesday on the sale to Patrick Soon-Shiong, 64, the billionaire founder and chief executive of Culver City-based health care marketing and developing company NantHealth.
Soon-Shiong purchased $70.5 million in Tronc shares in 2016, according to the LA Times, and is the second-largest shareholder after Michael Ferro.
According to The Washington Post, the two clashed on several issues Ferro’s use of a private jet and other executive perks. They also fought over the sale of the parent company to Gannett, with Soon-Shiong in favor and Ferro opposed.
The Washington Post describes Soon-Shiong as “a surgeon by training, he has no background in newspapers, except as an investor in Tronc.” He also spoke with the Trump transition team last year on health care issues, according to the Washington Post.
In 2011 Soon-Shiong was at the center of a failed project to host data for California’s courts. He offered to put $20 million into an expensive court IT project that would host information and the court network through his own data center – putting him in control of that data and possibly profiting from it.
One court official called Soon-Shiong a “an angel in the wings” with his generous offer to help pay for the project that had already cost taxpayers more than a half-billion dollars at the time.
The same year, Soon-Shiong registered Nantworks with California’s Department of Corporations as “data mining technology.”
Former state Sen. Joseph Dunn, who help broker the potential IT project, suggested Soon-Shiong sought access to source code for the Court Case Management System project.
But court officials abruptly halted talks with the billionaire.
A phone call seeking further comment from Soon-Shiong was not returned by press time.
The Los Angeles Times newsroom has experienced a rollercoaster 2018 so far, including a feud with former editor-in-chief Lewis D’Vorkin, who lasted three months at the position. Tronc chose former interim editor-in-chief Jim Kirk, but the Huffington Post reported that D’Vorkin spearheaded a model that would use writers outside of the newsroom, thus creating “a shadow newsroom.”
Last month, the newsroom formed a union in a landslide vote. In December, Anthony Pesce, the Los Angeles Times data journalist and union organizer, said corporate turnover and removal of accrued vacation time are just a few examples of actions taken by management that have hurt morale within the company and why the newsroom voted to form its union.
The LA Times Guild said in a statement it looks forward to working with a local owner “who can help us preserve The Times as a guardian of our community and as the voice of the American West.”
Gabriel Kahn, professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Journalism, said Soon-Shiong’s purchase of the newspaper would be an improvement over the tumult the paper has experienced with Tronc.
“But I don’t think he fits the mold of the benevolent billionaire that people were hoping for,” Kahn said in an interview with Courthouse News. “It’s tough to imagine a worse situation than what the LA Times has gone through in the last 12 months.”