LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Times is being sold to a local billionaire for $500 million, ending its strained tenure under the owner of the Chicago Tribune.
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is a major shareholder of Chicago’s Tronc Inc., one of the richest men in Los Angeles and, according to Forbes, the nation’s wealthiest doctor, with a net worth of $7.8 billion.
The deal includes The San Diego Union-Tribune, various titles in the California News Group and the assumption of $90 million in pension liabilities.
The announcement Wednesday means that for the first time in 18 years the Times will be under local ownership.
Soon-Shiong takes over in a time of turmoil at the paper. The Times just replaced its top editor, the third switch at the position in the newsroom in six months. Publisher Ross Levinsohn had been on unpaid leave after revelations that he was a defendant in two sexual harassment lawsuits elsewhere. Tronc announced Wednesday that Levinsohn has been cleared of any wrongdoing and would be reinstated as CEO of its newly reorganized Tribune Interactive division.
Journalists voted in January to unionize for the first time in the paper’s 136-year history.
Clashes between the Los Angeles Times and Tribune Co., which changed its name to Tronc Inc., erupted not long after it acquired the West Coast paper in 2000. Staff at the Times bristled over what it considered a string of bad decisions made from hundreds of miles away in Chicago.
The editor of the Los Angeles Times, John Carroll, who led the paper to 13 Pulitzer Prizes, resigned under heavy pressure to cut staff. Before he left, he asked an old friend and billionaire philanthropist if he would consider buying the paper.
Publisher John Puerner stepped down at the Times, as did his successor, Jeffrey Johnson, shortly after.
Dean Baquet, who took over for Carroll, left after 15 months. He is now the executive editor at The New York Times.
The sale of the Los Angeles Times is in keeping with one of two trends in media ownership: big companies getting bigger and wealthy investors taking on newspapers as philanthropic endeavors, said Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute.