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Tronc Sells Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union-Tribune to Patrick Soon-Shiong

The Los Angeles Times will return to local ownership after its parent company agreed to sell its flagship publication to Patrick Soon-Shiong for $500 million.

Tronc, the latest iteration of the company that has owned the paper since 2000, said that Soon-Shiong will also buy The San Diego Union-Tribune and other titles in Southern California. Soon-Shiong, through his Nant Capital LLC, will also assume $90 million in pension liabilities.

“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. “This transaction allows us to fully repay our outstanding debt, significantly lower our pension liabilities, and have a substantial cash position following the close of the transaction.”

The deal is expected to close later this quarter or early next quarter. It still must be cleared by antitrust regulators.

Soon-Shiong, an investor and biotech entrepreneur, is the second-largest shareholder of Tronc. He said in a statement, “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.”

The sale is the latest chapter in a tumultuous period for the Times. The predecessor to Tronc, the Tribune Co., bought the paper from the Chandler family in 2000, putting it in the hands of a Chicago-based company that often was at odds with the leadership in Los Angeles.

While all print newspapers have grappled with the transition to the digital age, the problems for the Los Angeles Times were exacerbated by its own corporate dramas. Most recently, its publisher, Ross Levinsohn, was placed on leave pending a sexual harassment investigation, and its editor, Lewis D’Vorkin, was ousted last week after just three months on the job. He was replaced by Jim Kirk, the former editor and publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Tronc also announced that Levinsohn has been reinstated as CEO of the newly launched Tribune Interactive, which will operate the company’s digital functions, after the Board of Directors found “no wrongdoing” on his part. The new division — based in Chicago — will report to Dearborn. The Times has had eight different publishers under Tribune-Tronc ownership.

Also last month, the editorial employees of the Times voted to unionize. The paper has about 400 newsroom employees on its staff, from a peak of about 1,300 in the late 1990s.

Tronc will receive $500 million in cash under the terms of the transaction.

As reports of the sale emerged on Tuesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti chimed in with a tweet. “A great city needs a great newspaper, and Los Angeles depends on the L.A. Times to tell our story every day. I will always be rooting for my hometown paper to succeed.”

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