WASHINGTON – South African-born American biotechnology billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong said on Wednesday that his investment firm has agreed to acquire the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune and other California-based assets for $500 million in cash.
“We look forward to continuing the great tradition of award-winning journalism carried out by the reporters and editors of the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune and the other California News Group titles,” Soon-Shiong, who lives in Los Angeles, said in a statement published on the Web site of his private investment vehicle, Nant Capital, LLC.
Soon-Shiong, a minority owner of the Los Angeles Lakers NBA basketball franchise, acquired those newspapers from Chicago-based media company Tronc for nearly $500 million in cash.
Under the terms of the deal, Nant Capital also will assume $90 million in Tronc’s pension liabilities.
The change in ownership at the 136-year-old LA Times follows a particularly turbulent period for that major daily, which has had three editors-in-chief over the past six months and also been rocked by sexual harassment allegations involving publisher Ross Levinsohn.
Levinsohn, who had been on unpaid leave since Jan. 19, has been cleared of wrongdoing following an independent investigation and now will step into a new role as CEO of Tronc’s new digital division, Tribune Interactive, that media company announced Wednesday.
The deal was reached quickly in recent days and took many experts by surprise, especially considering that Tronc, whose second-largest shareholder is Nant Capital, had insisted that the LA Times was a crucial part of its growth strategy.
Tronc is expected to use the $500 million in sale proceeds to reduce its debt and further pursue its digital strategy at its remaining publications, including the Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Baltimore Sun and the New York Daily News.
“We are pleased to transition leadership of the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune to local ownership, and we are certain that the journalistic excellence in Southern California will continue long into the future,” Tronc CEO Justin Dearborn said in a statement.