“I have made a decision to invest what it will take to make sure that the Los Angeles Times remains a viable business for at least another 100 years,” Soon-Shiong told the Wall Street Journal.
Does Patrick Soon-Shiong’s sly grin spell doom for the Union-Tribune?
The other shoe remains to fall in what local media watchers are calling the great Union-Tribune buyout of 2020. The story starts on February 20 with reports by CNN that Los Angeles Times and U-T owner Patrick Soon-Shiong was yearning to get rid of an undisclosed number of editors and reporters at the properties he acquired two years ago with heady promises of growth. "I have made a decision to invest what it will take to make sure that the Los Angeles Times remains a viable business for at least another 100 years," Soon-Shiong told the Wall Street Journal in a story run March 19, 2019. "If we get to five million [digital subscribers] ultimately, that will make that possible." Then last fall, Times editor in chief Norman Pearlstine gave a blogger for the Poynter Institute a much lower estimate of hoped-for digital subscribers: "We think we can get to 750,000 to a million subscribers," ventured Pearlstine. "It's going to take some work, but at that level, our economic picture will look a lot better than when Patrick bought it."
There have been no subsequent public progress appraisals from the closely held operation until last month, when CNN posted a newsroom memo, announcing that the California Times, Soon-Shiong's holding company for the papers, was "offering voluntary buyout packages (an 'Employee Voluntary Separation Plan'). Employees with more than two years of service are eligible to apply." The memo set off a wave of rumors that many old-time stars of the U-T would be heading out the door to the green pastures of retirement, but as of this week, nothing has been confirmed by the company. "As in previous buyout offers, many people are weighing their options," a writer who identified himself as a current U-T staffer said in an online message board. "For me, the offer comes at an ideal time. I've submitted the paperwork and, if the company approves, will depart with no hard feelings. Quite the opposite — the Union and Union-Tribune have been good to me. The staff is now the smallest I've seen in 35-plus years here, and the buyout doubtless will shrink our ranks further."
Let them eat consultants
As the county's homeless crisis continues to burgeon, officials are preparing to spend tax money on yet another consultant to study the matter. "Homelessness is a complex problem," notes a request for quotation issued February 24, entitled Upstream Homeless System Research and Evaluation Service. "The body of research on this topic has demonstrated that homelessness cannot be solved by a single intervention and requires the coordination of multiple, interconnected strategies working together toward a common goal." Adds the document, "Often, the work of local and regional governments focuses either on crisis intervention or crisis prevention, but not on the system or structural shifts necessary to address root causes of homelessness."
The researchers have a lot of ground to cover, including whether the county can do anything at all, based on the open-ended tasks presented in the request. "Contractor shall provide fully developed research... in report form for upstream homelessness prevention, including identification of multiple sets of factors that may exist at differing points along a person's lifespan and whether sufficient evidence exists to warrant an upstream prevention approach to homelessness." Officials are counting on the report to "establish whether an evidence base for... upstream homelessness prevention exists." The cost to taxpayers has yet to be announced.
Second place, no cigars
The Union-Tribune can claim a mixed record for its endorsements during March's primary season, but most of its wins came at the second-place margins of tight races. The newspaper's number one priority, a controversial room tax measure to fund yet another convention center expansion and homeless relief package, fell short of the two-thirds vote required for passage. Political insiders credit the paper's editorials and lack of in-depth coverage for making the campaign a squeaker.
Rafael Castellanos is still smiling, even though a Union-Tribune endorsement wasn’t good enough for second place.
Still, there was no cigar, and the performance fell short of the days when U-T opinion writers so dominated the electorate that their endorsement of big taxpayer-financed projects, including the downtown baseball park, guaranteed a win. Results of the paper's support of candidates for the county's board of supervisors were uneven, with port commissioner Rafael Castellanos, highly touted by the newspaper, falling into a tight battle for second place with, but ultimately losing to, Southwestern Community College Board Member Nora Vargas in the First District. State senate Democrat Ben Hueso was first.
The biggest embarrassment came in the District 3 supervisor race, where the paper's favorite, Escondido Councilwoman Olga Diaz, fell to Terra Lawson-Remer, daughter of Democratic politico Larry Remer, for a second-place runoff spot against Republican incumbent Kristin Gaspar. U-T editorialists picked up a victory of sorts in San Diego city council District 1, where the paper's endorsed candidate Will Moore, a lawyer, was clinging to a slim second-place lead over firefighter Aaron Brennan. The winner will run off against real estate consultant Joe LaCava, who placed first.