LA Times to be sold to local billionaire

LA Times sold to billionaire physician

Tronc, the Chicago-based company formerly known as Tribune Publishing, will sell the Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune and the rest of its California News Group to Soon-Shiong for $500 million in cash, plus the assumption of $90 million in pension liabilities, the company announced Wednesday morning. Tronc is paying $66 million for a 60 percent stake in 4-year-old BestReviews. The company will also remain the owner of the Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Baltimore Sun and New York Daily News.

Soon-Shiong, who also holds a minority interest in the Los Angeles Lakers, said in an interview with the Times previous year that as a major stockholder in the paper, he was unhappy with the way it was being run. And a deal could end a standoff with Soon-Shiong, who had a public falling-out with Tronc Chairman Michael Ferro. Times publisher Ross Levinsohn, who sat out the last few months while charges of sexual misconduct against him were investigated, will lead the division.

"I am concerned there are other agendas, independent of the newspaper's needs or the fiduciary obligations to the viability of the organization", he said at the time.

Tronc said it would use the sale proceeds to extinguish about $340 million in long-term debt, much of it attributable to the 2014 spinoff when Tribune Co. split into Tribune Media and Tribune Publishing. Tronc agreed at the time to license technology from Soon-Shiong's company. The newspaper company took on a $325 million loan to cover that cost.

The announcement Wednesday means that for the first time in 18 years the Times will be under local ownership.

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The newspaper company decided previous year not to renominate Soon-Shiong to the board amid questions about whether he violated company trading policies by buying Tronc shares near the time of earnings reports.

"Wealthy local ownership is exactly what the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune need, assuming that Dr. Soon-Shiong is willing to be patient and to respect the independence of the newsroom".

The Los Angeles Times, acquired by Tronc's predecessor Tribune Co in 2000, has undergone several management changes and rounds of layoffs, reflecting a struggle by newspapers in general to adapt to digital media.

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. Soon-Shiong's Nant Capital, a California-based technology firm, became Tronc's second-largest shareholder in June 2016 and that investment helped Tronc fend off a hostile takeover bid from Gannett, whose last offer was $864 million for the company.

Soon-Shiong, 65, amassed his fortune in part by developing a cancer drug in 1991.

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