The Los Angeles Times on Monday officially returned to local ownership as billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong completed his $500-million purchase of the publication, as well as the San Diego-Union Tribune and other smaller newspapers.
In a letter to readers, Soon-Shiong offered a full-throated defense of newspapers and criticized the era of “fake news,” calling it “the cancer of our times.”
“Institutions like The Times and the Union-Tribune are more vital than ever,” Soon-Shiong said in his note. “They must be bastions of editorial integrity and independence if they are to protect our democracy and provide an antidote to disinformation. We will continue our papers’ dedication to truth, integrity, journalistic independence, and storytelling that engages, informs, educates and inspires with care and compassion.”
In his first act as owner, Soon-Shiong named veteran journalist Norman Pearlstine executive editor of the L.A. Times. Pearlstine, 75, has spent 50 years in journalism at top publications like Time Inc. magazines, Bloomberg News, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal. Pearlstine had been serving as an advisor to Soon-Shiong in the last two months, working on a post-Tronc transition plan.
The return to local ownership is welcome news to the Los Angeles Times newsroom, which in recent months voted to form a union to counter further cost-cutting moves by its previous Chicago-based ownership by Tronc. Soon-Shiong, who met with the newsroom Monday, told the newsroom he offered to buy the paper from Tronc after he learned of plans by Chicago executives to initiate another round of layoffs.
Soon-Shiong, who had courted top editors like The New York Times’ Dean Baquet and The Washington Post’s Marty Baron, chose veteran journalist Norman Pearlstine as the L.A. Times’ new executive editor. He succeeds interim editor Jim Kirk, who spent two stints as temporary leader of the newsroom, bookending the short and tumultuous reign by ousted editor Lewis D’Vorkin.
Kirk, the Times said, declined to take a smaller role at the newspaper and is departing.
The newsroom is preparing to vacate its longtime home in downtown Los Angeles as it moves to new offices in El Segundo. In addition to the San Diego newspaper, the sale also included Spanish-language Hoy and several community newspapers. Among other steps, the newly-formed company, California Times, will have to negotiate a contract with the Los Angeles Times Guild
In a statement, the Guild struck an optimistic tone, pledging to work with Soon-Shiong to “think big again” and urged their new owner to reinvest in the newsroom.
“We think the American West is ready for the return of its most historically dominant news organization — a bold, ambitious, independent Los Angeles Times that informs its readers and questions the status quo,” the Guild said.