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Los Angeles Times To Be Sold

Feb 7, 2018
Originally published on February 7, 2018 5:28 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here in LA, there is a lot of speculation about what will happen to one of the nation's most prominent news organizations. The parent company of the Los Angeles Times is in talks to sell the paper to a billionaire doctor in a deal worth half a billion dollars. That's according to a source who talked to NPR. Other news outlets are also reporting on this potential deal. It has been a tumultuous time for this newspaper. LA Times journalists recently voted to form a union, and the paper's CEO was placed on leave following sexual harassment allegations first reported by NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, who joins us.

Hi, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So it sounds like this is not a done deal yet but maybe close enough that it's worth talking about, this buyer - right? - and what this could mean.

FOLKENFLIK: I think it's sort of the frenzied, frantic, last stages of negotiations. But I've been warned it could fall - all fall apart. The prospective buyer's one of the largest investors in Tronc, the parent company currently of the LA Times. His name is Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong. He's South African-born. He's a very respected doctor, surgeon, inventor and entrepreneur, a billionaire many times over.

And yet, there is - there are elements of a pattern of questions being raised about, for example, the ethics of a program he helped to fund at the University of Utah. Stat news in Boston has raised questions through thorough reporting about some of the claims he made about the so-called moonshot he's proposed and is attempting to do to try to create a cure for cancer praised by vice president - then-Vice President Joe Biden and others. So there are some interesting wrinkles about Dr. Soon-Shiong as a prospective owner, as well.

GREENE: Well, and I wonder, I mean, some of the wrinkles that this paper has been seeing in the past - in past months and how much this sale has to do with that. I mean, this paper is going through a sexual harassment investigation into its CEO that followed your reporting. So are these things all linked here?

FOLKENFLIK: I think there is a link. Look, Soon-Shiong has wanted to buy the LA Times. He's a Southern California guy. And he's - he would in this transaction take over The San Diego Union-Tribune, a sister paper, as well. He's wanted to do it and was always told by Michael Ferro, the controlling owner, that he would have to buy all of Tronc's newspapers. In this case, he's offering it at a premium. The package deal would be close to a half-billion dollars. That's a lot of money for how newspapers are valued these days.

But it does seem as though the timing is taking advantage of the crisis at the Times. They did vote, after months of growing mistrust within the newsroom, toward management for a union last month. But, also, our look into Ross Levinsohn, the publisher and CEO, really knocked him sideways and out of his job in a way that then undermined support in the newsroom for other key executives and for what they were doing.

GREENE: So there's been a lot of conflict in this newsroom recently.

FOLKENFLIK: It's been incredible. I think it's worth also focusing on the until-recent editor in chief, a guy named Lewis D'Vorkin who was handpicked by Ross Levinsohn to help offer and implement Levinsohn's digital strategy. There were concerns about pushing a lot of the journalism being done from outside the newsroom. D'Vorkin then went after leaks from his newsroom with the intensity of Richard Nixon, and it killed any kind of support he might have had.

GREENE: Could this change the media landscape? I mean, this is a big newspaper.

FOLKENFLIK: I think the implications are twofold. One is that, you know, if you're going to do wrenching change within newsroom to deal with changes in finances, you have to do it with the support of the newsroom rather than simply working against them. And I think, also, you know, even if Soon-Shiong proves to be a savior for this newspaper, they've got to resolve the financial troubles besetting the entire industry.

GREENE: All right, NPR's David Folkenflik talking to us about a potential deal - the parent company of the LA Times in talks to sell the paper to a billionaire doctor. And we'll be following that story, obviously. David, thanks a lot.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

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