The L.A. Times’ Owner Admits the Paper Was on the Verge of Being ‘Shut Down’

Billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong says that days before he agreed to buy the paper, its previous owners had decided to effectively close it

The Los Angeles Times came extremely close to being a thing of the past, according to its current owner.

During the latest episode of Kara Swisher’s podcast Sway via The New York Times, medical supplies and technology billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong recalled the days leading up to his June 2018 purchase of the L.A. Times from Chicago-based Tribune Publishing, a process that was not very lengthy, as it turns out.

“I got a call from Mike Ferro and that board, the current board, and [they] said, ‘We’re about to shut down the L.A. Times and push everything to Chicago,’” Soon-Shiong recalled on the show. “‘You have about 48 hours with no due diligence to buy the L.A. Times for $500 million.’”

That was a Friday, Soon-Shiong said. As a holder of 24 percent of Tribune’s stock, he was made privy to board decisions. By Monday, he’d signed a deal to buy the paper. Since then, the paper has still had some ups and some downs, and there was even a February report that Soon-Shiong was exploring a sale of his own, which he swiftly denied. But it has hired scores of journalists with Soon-Shiong’s investment, moved into a new and still-expanding HQ in El Segundo, and is in the process of building out its own production studio and test kitchen now that premium video and food content have proven lucrative for the likes of The New York Times.

All of it is costly, to the tune of $150 million in additional investment, Soon-Shiong said on the podcast. And he was frank in saying “we are losing money,” noting it’s required “in order to grow for the future.”

That growth is now largely under the purview of Kevin Merida, the paper’s new executive editor, who came aboard in May, replacing previous editor Norman Pearlstine. While Pearlstine was tasked with righting a newsroom that had been decimated by years of layoffs and a lack of investment under Tribune, Merida is being told to “expand revenue,” likely via deals for TV shows and podcast advertising, as well as events.

But there will be an end to Soon-Shiong’s generosity. He told Swisher, “I do mind losing money” while reiterating that he sees the $650 million or so he’ll have spent in about three years as an investment. When he first purchased the paper, he considered it a “quasi-public trust.”

When pressed by Swisher to say what he considers his spending limit on the L.A. Times, Soon-Shiong deflected, saying, “I’ll call you when I hit that.”

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