Patrick Soon-Shiong — Immigrant, Doctor, Billionaire, And Soon, Newspaper Owner — Starts A New Era At The L.A. Times
A 43-year-old woman lay dying on the floor of the emergency room lobby at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital as her boyfriend frantically called 911 for help from a pay phone outside.
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong read about it in the Los Angeles Times.
“That story,” he recalled recently, “it haunted me.”
Soon after the 2007 article was published, the billionaire physician drove across town to visit the troubled hospital south of Watts. He tracked down the doctor who was in charge that night and told him, “This is completely unacceptable.”
Soon-Shiong went on to provide a crucial financial guarantee to assist Los Angeles County’s efforts to build the modern Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital. The story also helped Soon-Shiong recognize the importance of journalism to his life — and to the life of the community.
“I wouldn’t have known had it not been in the paper,” he said during a recent interview.
Now, Soon-Shiong finds himself on the cusp of taking ownership of The Times. It will be his highest-profile venture in a long and lucrative career that began halfway around the world in South Africa.
His planned $500-million purchase, announced Feb. 7 and expected to close this month, will return the 136-year-old newspaper to local ownership after 18 tumultuous years under Chicago control.
The deal includes the San Diego Union-Tribune, Spanish-language Hoy and several small Southern California community papers, including the Glendale News-Press and the Daily Pilot in Costa Mesa.
On Friday, as he addressed The Times’ staff for the first time, Soon-Shiong announced the newspaper would leave its historic Art Deco building in downtown L.A. — its home since 1935 — when the lease expires June 30, and move to El Segundo, just south of Los Angeles International Airport.
Soon-Shiong’s purchase comes at a perilous time for the publishing industry as advertisers migrate their dollars to Facebook and Google, and as readers have become less willing to pay for print subscriptions.
Newspapers across the country have been reeling from the shift by slashing their newsroom staff. In less than three years, The Times’ parent, Tronc, has shed about 1,400 employees, with most of those coming from operations outside its newsrooms. That represents nearly a fifth of the company’s workforce.
The newsroom in January overwhelmingly voted to join a union to try to preserve jobs. Plans were in the works to cut up to 20% of The Times’ staff and close its Washington, D.C., bureau, Soon-Shiong said, news that spurred him to act “as desperately fast as possible” to save the paper.
“The idea of reducing the newsroom and getting rid of the Washington bureau — I thought if we didn’t move, that would be the death knell of the institution as we knew it,” he said.
Soon-Shiong’s purchase appeared to halt such massive cuts.