In $500 Million Deal, Tronc Sells LA Times To California Doctor

Feb 7, 2018
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here in LA, there has been so much speculation about what will happen to one of the nation's most prominent news organizations. Well, now we have some answers. The parent company of the Los Angeles Times has sold the paper to a billionaire doctor, Patrick Soon-Shiong, in a deal worth half a billion dollars. It has been a tumultuous time for that newspaper. And let's get the latest from CNN senior media reporter Dylan Byers, who's on the line with us. Hi, Dylan.

DYLAN BYERS: Hi. How are you?

GREENE: I'm good. Thanks for coming on with us. We appreciate it. Can you tell us about the buyer here?

BYERS: Yeah. So the buyer is Patrick Soon-Shiong, who's a local biotech billionaire and is actually a rather controversial figure both, I would say, in the health care industry and also on Wall Street. He's known as the world's richest doctor, but at the same time that, you know, shares in both of his companies have dropped by well over 80 percent since he bought them. He's known sort of as much as a self-promoter as he is as a successful entrepreneur in the biotech space. He launched a cancer moonshot project at one point to eradicate cancer by 2020 that has been described by some investigative reports as basically being a self-promotional marketing tool.

So look. I think the sense among the staffers at the LA Times that I've talked to is that there's an element of progress here. They're coming out from this tumultuous period under Tronc ownership. They're finally getting a local owner. At the same time, you know, the sort of million dollar question here is, how good is Patrick Soon-Shiong going to be for the paper? Is he going to be a Jeff Bezos-type figure who came in and saved The Washington Post? I think there are a lot of doubts about that. At the same time, it is an improvement upon the current ownership.

GREENE: And you mentioned a tumultuous time for this newspaper coming after, you know, a sexual harassment investigation into the CEO and a lot of labor conversations that have been going on. What does this mean in the broader media landscape? You mentioned Tronc. I mean, they're related to Tribune in Chicago, you know, big-time newspaper owners, owned the LA Times for a long time. What does it mean for the media landscape that a paper this size could now be in the hands of, you know, a private owner like this?

BYERS: Well, you know, again, the truth is we really don't know. And what, you know - the big picture here is that ownership of newspapers, which is a beleaguered industry to begin with, is really becoming a private thing. So you have Jeff Bezos over The Washington Post. You have John Henry of The Boston Globe. You now have Patrick Soon-Shiong over the Los Angeles Times. How well those papers do, both from a financial perspective and I would say more importantly for the sort of civic health of the cities and communities they serve, entirely comes down to the priorities of those owners. And that is why there is still so much uncertainty about what a Patrick Soon-Shiong era means for the Los Angeles Times.

I would say a second question to ask is, what happens to Tronc and all of its other papers now? It's no longer holding this major paper that was the LA Times. It's got the Baltimore Sun. It's got the Chicago Tribune. What happens to those papers? But, you know, look. What I would say is Los Angeles is a vibrant city. And there's a lot going on out here in California. And it deserves a robust media environment, which is something it has not had under the Tronc ownership. And I think there's a lot of hope, albeit cautious hope, that that might happen under the new ownership.

GREENE: So there hasn't been happiness as with the previous ownership, at least they're putting some optimism, although there's a lot of uncertainty here. The Los Angeles Times has been sold to a billionaire doctor, and we'll see where that newspaper goes. It's a huge story here in Los Angeles. That was CNN's Dylan Byers joining us. Dylan, thanks a lot.

BYERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.