National News

Los Angeles Times’ New Owner Takes Helm

Posted June 18, 2018 10:14 a.m. EDT

LOS ANGELES — After years of turmoil and out-of-town management, The Los Angeles Times is returning to local ownership.

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire biotech entrepreneur who in February announced he would buy the paper — and The San Diego Union-Tribune — for $500 million, officially takes ownership Monday. The move heralds a new era for the newspaper after years of staff cuts and diminished ambitions.

To honor the occasion, The LA Times on Sunday published a blaring banner headline on its front page, the sort usually reserved for the start of wars or devastating natural disaster: “A new era of Times ownership.”

The coverage, which included an exhaustive history of the paper — its rise under a Civil War colonel named Harrison Gray Otis in the late 1800s to national and international prominence in the 1960s and 1970s — reflected the anticipation across the newsroom and the city as it awaits what changes are in store under Soon-Shiong.

Soon-Shiong’s own story, of growing up in South Africa as the son of Chinese immigrants and then making it big as a doctor in Los Angeles, resonates in this city of immigrants. And painful years of seeing the paper’s influence and size dwindle under absentee owners has raised hopes that Soon-Shiong, with his deep ties to the city and his own ambitions of becoming a major power player here, can restore the paper to its former glory. In the months since the deal was announced, Soon-Shiong has been seeking advice from journalistic luminaries such as Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, and Martin Baron, editor of The Washington Post.

While he has promised to make new investments, much of Soon-Shiong’s plans to reshape the paper for the digital age are vague. But he has announced the paper will vacate its art deco headquarters in downtown Los Angeles and move to new offices in El Segundo, near the airport — a move that was greeted with a groan among staff because for many it will mean longer commutes in the city’s notorious traffic.

Soon-Shiong takes ownership at a time of deep peril for the news industry and when its national competitors have moved far ahead in adapting to the digital age, advancing new story formats and gaining digital subscribers.

In a note to readers published Sunday, Soon-Shiong, 65, made a full-throated defense of traditional news outlets and their necessity at a time of political divisions and the echo chambers of social media. He promised to make new investments in news gathering.

“I believe that fake news is the cancer of our times and social media the vehicles for metastasis,” he wrote. “Institutions like The Times and The Union-Tribune are more vital than ever. They must be bastions of editorial integrity and independence if they are to protect our democracy and provide an antidote to disinformation.”