San Diego Union-Tribune Sold to MediaNews Group

From a Los Angeles Times story by Meg James headlined “Soon-Shiong family sells San Diego Union-Tribune”:

Patrick Soon-Shiong and his family have sold the San Diego Union-Tribune to competing publisher MediaNews Group, slimming down the family’s holdings to just one news organization — the Los Angeles Times.

California Times President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Argentieri announced the sale of The Times’ sister publication to an affiliate of the Denver-based MediaNews Group, which is owned by controversial New York investment firm Alden Global Capital.

The company did not disclose a purchase price.

MediaNews Group separately announced its purchase to the San Diego newsroom, and immediately warned that staff reductions were coming.

“This valued acquisition enables MediaNews Group to advance its stewardship in California as the largest provider of news and information across the state as we continue our commitment to ensure newspapers remain viable well into the future,” Sharon Ryan, executive vice president for California for MediaNews Group, said.

Soon-Shiong and his family spent $500 million in June 2018 to buy The Times and the Union-Tribune from Chicago-based Tribune Publishing after a decade of turmoil and dramatic cuts to The Times. While Soon-Shiong’s primary interest was in The Times, he pledged support for both newsrooms.

The family “made a good faith effort to rebuild and support both news organizations,” Soon-Shiong said.

In the five years since the purchase, the newspaper industry has become more fraught due to subscriber losses and shortfalls in advertising revenue that intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two years ago, Tribune sold its operations, including the Chicago Tribune, to Alden for $633 million.

Alden already owns more than 70 dailies across the country, including the Orange County Register, Long Beach Press-Telegram and Los Angeles Daily News. The firm’s other Southern California outlets include the Riverside Press-Enterprise, Daily Breeze, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, Whittier Daily News, San Bernardino Sun, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and the Redlands Daily Facts.

Ryan cited “substantial revenue pressures brought on by big tech aggregators who redistribute our original content for their own profit” for the challenges facing the newspaper industry.

“Despite impressive news reporting and a hardworking staff, the U-T has not been immune to these pressures,” Ryan wrote. “The U-T will also need to make some difficult staffing decisions as we assume management. Reductions will be necessary to offset the slowdown in revenues as economic headwinds continue to impact the media industry.”

Ryan said the firm would be offering buyouts “in an effort for staff reductions to be voluntary.”

Also on Monday, the New York Times announced that it was disbanding its well-regarded sports department, and leaving the bulk of coverage to its digital site, the Athletic.

One day earlier, The Times announced that it will no longer carry game coverage, box scores or listings in its print newspaper. The paper’s new sports section will have a magazine-style format with in-depth profiles, investigations, analysis and opinion columns.

The move came after The Times announced last month that it was cutting 74 positions due to financial difficulties.

The Times’ reporting positions were largely spared but the production staff was scaled back.

Nearly a third of the cuts came from news operations, web producers and copy editor ranks. Photographers, audience engagement editors, news operations managers, audio producers and sports copy editors lost their jobs.

Soon-Shiong said the family maintains its commitment to The Times, which operates the largest newsroom in the western U.S.

“The Union-Tribune is a great news organization with a long, distinguished history that I hope will continue to serve the San Diego community for generations to come,” Soon-Shiong said in a statement.

“Our intention now is to focus on the ongoing work of transforming the L.A. Times into a self-sustaining institution. Our hometown of Los Angeles and the state of California — really, the West Coast — needs a strong, independent news organization,” Soon-Shiong said. “We believe in the L.A. Times and are committed to its future.”

Meg James is a senior entertainment industry writer for the Los Angeles Times.

Speak Your Mind