More layoffs in Chicago and a noteworthy retirement in San Diego have sowed concerns about the pace of takeover by Los Angeles billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong of the Union-Tribune and its big sister, the L.A. Times.
First reported by Midwest media blogger Robert Feder, the newsroom of the Chicago Tribune, owned by the peculiarly-named tronc, took a surprise hit March 15, as a raft of editorial employees were called in one by one to get walking papers.
“Everyone who walks out of the newsroom with their things gets a round of applause,” Tribune reporter Peter Nickeas wrote on Twitter. “Nobody has communicated to the newsroom about what’s going on.”
Explained a statement from Marisa Kollias, tronc's vice president of communications and public relations, "The newsroom is redefining jobs and structure so that people are in the best position to create and deliver news content for the rapidly changing demands of our audience.”
Per Feder, the Chicago layoffs, the number of which was unannounced, was the second such bloodletting in five months, as tronc tries to become "more nimble, more entrepreneurial, more responsive to our readers’ current interests and permanent passions,” in the words of a statement by Tribune publisher and editor-in-chief Bruce Dold.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles and San Diego, word is awaited regarding the $500-million-plus deal between tronc and physician Soon-Shiong for the Times-and U-T, announced February 7.
During a March 7 conference call with Wall Street analysts, tronc chief financial officer Terry Jimenez said that the Times/U-T takeover was "imminent," adding "Our hope is that it closes in days and weeks, versus months, but we are moving as fast as we can.”
Federal regulators did their part by granting quick approval for a fast transfer, though some details, including Soon-Shiong's continued operation of a string of small San Diego County papers, including the La Jolla Light, have remained unclarified.
"I know that everyone will have many questions about the future. I hope to have some answers when we meet soon," wrote Soon-Shiong in a February 7 memo to Times and U-T employees. "I want to assure you — everyone from the press room to the newsroom — that I will work to ensure that you have the tools and resources to produce the high-quality journalism that our readers need and rely upon," he wrote.
Locals hope that their new owner will bolster employment during a rebuilding effort, as stalwart full-page retail advertisers, including Mor Furniture, Ortho Mattress, and car dealers, vanish from the pages.
A delay or collapse of the Soon-Shiong purchase could spell the end of the U-T, which has been losing employees. The latest example of the thinning of U-T ranks comes with the retirement of reporter and local author Roger Showley, marking the end of more than four decades with the Union and its successor Union-Tribune.
"Roger has written thousands of great articles over the years showcasing San Diego's built environment," notes the invitation to A Toast to Roger Showley on April 3, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects and the San Diego Architectural Foundation, among others. "Come raise a glass in good cheer for all the wonderful writing that he has done for all of our land use organizations."
Showley, a third generation San Diegan and author of several books on history, design, and development here, including San Diego: Perfecting Paradise and Balboa Park: A Millennium History, said he would devote his retirement to volunteer work for UCSD, his alma mater, and Balboa Park. His beat is being assumed by Phillip Molnar, a real estate and business writer at the paper.