The two broadsheet pages aimed at Temecula area
A proposal to sell the Tribune Publishing chain, formerly known as Tronc, to controversial hedge fund Alden Capital Management has spawned a morass of bad online times for Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner of the Los Angeles Times and San Diego's Union-Tribune.
Alden's announcement last week that it intended to buy out Tribune's shareholders, including 25-percent owner Soon-Shiong, in a putative $630 million deal triggered calls by Alden critics for the L.A. physician and pharmaceutical magnate to block the sale.
Unless Soon-Shiong acts, those opposing Alden argue, the investment outfit would seize control of some of the nation's few remaining big-city dailies, including the Chicago Tribune, and mercilessly gut them of award-winning reporters and editors.
Skeptics of a Soon-Shiong role as journalistic savior, including newspaper business analyst Rick Evans, predict it is likelier for Soon-Shiong, already enmeshed in a long-stalled makeover of the L.A. Times and U-T, to collect his share of Alden's buyout offer.
Having paid Tribune $500 million for the Times and U-T, in June 2018, Soon-Shiong "has lost a lot more money than he had anticipated," wrote Evans. "I would bet that getting out with a good return on his investment will be Soon-Shiong's main or sole objective."
Then came last Friday's Wall Street Journal dispatch, which claimed Soon-Shiong was thinking about clearing out of the newspaper business by unloading both the Times and U-T.
The L.A. billionaire has "grown dissatisfied with the news organization's slow expansion of its digital audience and its substantial losses," the Journal quoted unnamed sources as saying.
"He also has increasingly come to believe that the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune — together known as the California Times company — would be better served if they were part of a larger media group, they said."
"The options being considered include an outright sale of the entire company, bringing in an additional investor or transferring management of the properties to another media group, people familiar with the matter said.
"Mr. Soon-Shiong has also considered selling or transferring management of the San Diego publication to another company, possibly Alden Global Capital Inc.'s MediaNews Group, which owns several papers in the areas between the two cities."
Soon-Shiong's subsequent tweet that the Journal was wrong and that he still backed the Times set off a mini-contretemps in San Diego, causing newsroom speculation that the denial's omission of the U-T meant Alden is just around the corner.
Subsequent statements by Soon-Shiong and aides clarified he intended to retain the San Diego operation. But persistent rumors that Soon-Shiong's reign may soon be over have damaged recruiting, per a February 25 report by New York Post media columnist Keith Kelly.
"Anne Kornblut, a former Washington Post Pulitzer Prize winner who now works for Facebook, is the latest candidate to pull out of the race for top job at the Los Angeles Times," according to Kelly.
"Kornblut withdrew her name from the running following a February 19 report in the Wall Street Journal that L.A. Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is exploring a potential sale, sources said." The columnist added ESPN's Kevin Merida, editor-in-chief of The Undefeated sports blog, remains in contention.
Meanwhile back in San Diego, the Union-Tribune has begun experimenting with a new section called the Californian Local. The two broadsheet pages are aimed at the Temecula area north of San Diego and feature a “community calendar" of events in Perris, Wildomar, Murrieta, and other burgeoning Riverside County suburbs.
Some notice the new section resembles the reporter-free type of journalism Alden espouses and worry whether it could herald the first phase of Soon-Shiong's departure.
La Jolla developer Doug Manchester, a previous U-T owner, shuttered the Temecula-based Daily Californian along with the North County Times not long after he bought them both from struggling Lee Enterprises in September 2012.