Tronc sells LA Times, other newspapers to local billionaire

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Tronc, Inc. has reached a $500 million deal to sell the Los Angeles Times and several other newspapers in California to local biotechnology billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, both parties announced on Wednesday.

Tronc, which was previously known as Tribune Publishing, said in a statement that it had entered into a definitive agreement to sell the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune and several smaller titles in the California News Group to Soon-Shiong’s investment firm Nant Capital.

The sale means that the Los Angeles Times, which was founded in 1881 and remains the fourth-largest newspaper in the United States, will return to local ownership after 18 years. Soon-Shiong is also a major shareholder of Chicago-based Tronc.

The newly-established Los Angeles Times Guild welcomed the news. “The L.A. Times Guild looks forward to working with a local owner who can help us preserve The Times as a guardian of our community and as the voice of the American West,” the union said.

Nant Capital also agreed to assume all operational liabilities associated with the newspapers, including $90 million in pension liabilities. Justin Dearborn, the chief executive officer of Tronc, said that the sale of the newspapers will allow Tronc to fully repay its outstanding debt and significantly lower its pension liabilities.

“We look forward to continuing the great tradition of award-winning journalism carried out by the reporters and editors of the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune and the other California News Group titles,” Soon-Shiong said in a statement.

The deal is expected to close in the late first quarter or early second quarter of 2018.

Also on Wednesday, Tronc announced that an independent probe into Los Angeles Times publisher Ross Levinsohn found no wrongdoing on his part. Levinsohn had been on unpaid leave since January 19 after it was revealed that he had been involved in two sexual harassment lawsuits at previous jobs.

Tronc provided no details about the outcome of the investigation, but it said the Board of Directors had reinstated Levinsohn and appointed him CEO of newly-formed Tribune Interactive, which will be home to Tronc’s digital assets, product development, marketing, and video production.

“We are pleased that Ross will be back to work,” Dearborn said. “We have great confidence in him and the team to deliver value for our shareholders through growing digital audiences for our award-winning journalism, new creative content and product initiatives, and growing digital and diversified revenue streams.”

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