Chicago Tribune tower, North Michigan Ave.
How soon for Soon-Shiong?
The controversial takeover of Tribune Publishing by hedge fund Alden Global Capital may turn out to be good news for the San Diego Union-Tribune, but not until the close of a Faustian bargain. Bought by super-rich physician Patrick Soon-Shiong from Chicago-based Tribune three years ago in a $500 million deal that included the Los Angeles Times and a raft of local weeklies, the U-T has continued to shrink in both print advertising and circulation. Though the operation is private, outsiders estimate that it may be losing millions of dollars a year, requiring hefty subsidies from Soon-Shiong. Now comes word that the L.A. billionaire, who still owns about 25 percent of Tribune Publishing, may be set to realize a considerable cash windfall resulting from the sale of Tribune to Alden in a $630 million deal. As part of the arrangement, Tribune’s Baltimore Sun and accompanying weeklies would be sold to a non-profit run by that city’s Stewart Bainum Jr., a UCLA alumnus. He increased his fortune with family-owned ManorCare nursing homes and Choice Hotels. Once a state legislator, Bainum ran as a Democrat for a congressional seat from Maryland but lost to a Republican in 1986.
How long will Patrick Soon-Shiong hang on to the Union-Tribune?
The complicated Alden acquisition of Tribune, requiring regulatory approval and Soon-Shiong’s final signoff, would give the hedge fund free rein to slash more news budgets and lay off reporters, as it has at its other newspaper properties. That’s why opponents of the move hope Soon-Shiong will decide to veto the deal. But such an outcome is unlikely, opines newspaper business analyst Rick Edmunds in a Poynter.org piece regarding the rough road traveled by the L.A. Times and U-T following Soon-Shiong’s takeover. “In the two-and-a-half years since he has lost a lot more money than he had anticipated,” says Edmunds. “Plenty of work, including finding a new editor, remains. I would bet that getting out with a good return on his investment will be Soon-Shiong’s main or sole objective.”
Cash derived by Soon-Shiong from the Tribune sale, speculation goes, could be deployed to keep his struggling California news outlets afloat while he continues to figure out how to revive them. “Look for all or nearly all Tribune properties to join Alden’s MediaNews Group family — once also widely known as Digital First Media — by later this year,” says Edmunds. “Those holdings include The Denver Post, The Orange County Register, Boston Herald, and groups of dailies in the Los Angeles and San Francisco metro areas. Then look for Alden to run its new conquests the same way it has its old ones.”
Mason Slaine, described in a February 16 Chicago Tribune dispatch as a “former media executive” who owns eight percent of Tribune Publishing, told the paper, “Despite all the talk about saving the papers and community interest, no one stepped up.”
Late Friday, February 19, Soon-Shiong denied a report by the Wall Street Journal that he was considering dumping both the Times and Union-Tribune, with the San Diego paper possibly destined for the hands of Alden Global Capital.
Come hell or flack attacks
While the San Diego city council continues to lobby for more federal tax dollars to weather the financial storm of the Covid-19 pandemic, P.R. patronage hires continue to pad the payroll. Christopher Chan, an ex-TV news reporter from NBC affiliate KNSD, assumed office on January 11 as a “program coordinator,” according to his statement of economic interests filed February 10. On Twitter, where Chan has retweeted the opinions of those against the recall of his boss, council president Jen Campbell, he’s identified as Council Communications Director. That was the gig last held by ex-City Beat editor David Rolland under former council president Georgette Gomez, whose bid for congress against fellow Democrat and Qualcomm heiress Sara Jacobs went up in flames last year.
Like Governor Newsom, councilwoman Jen Campbell faces a fierce recall effort.
Rolland is currently billed as Senior Advisor of Communications to Mayor Todd Gloria...San Diego Democrats’ battle over who will have the upper hand in next year’s race for California Secretary of State is shaping up to be a hard-fought contest between at least two high-funded candidates — unless one of them blinks first. Shirley Weber, the ex-Assembly Democrat named Secretary of State by Governor Gavin Newsom following Newsom’s elevation of Alex Padilla to the U.S. Senate, has already hit up an array of big-money donors for her 2022 election campaign. February 9 givers included the California Dental Association Political Action Committee and Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, which kicked in $8100 each. The Govern for California Courage Committee, run by San Francisco’s David Crane, a one-time economic advisor to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, gave the same on February 2. The political action committee of Professional Engineers in California Government, a labor group, came up with $16,200 on February 8. A total of $8800 of Crane’s money, along with the same from California Courage, previously went to ex-San Diego city council Republican-turned-independent Mark Kersey’sn ultimately failed bid for the state Assembly in December 2017.
— Matt Potter (@sdmattpotter)
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