LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong is nearing a deal to buy the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune from its parent company Tronc, according to two people familiar with the talks.
The nearly $500-million deal, if consummated, would return The Times to local ownership after 18 years and represent a major shift for Tronc, which has long built its strategy around owning newspapers in the country's largest cities.
A deal had not been reached Tuesday afternoon, though both sides are working furiously to complete the transaction and an announcement could come quickly, said those sources, who were not authorized to speak about the negotiations publicly and requested anonymity.
Tronc is expected to use the $500 million in proceeds to further its digital strategy across the remaining papers, which include the Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sentinel and Baltimore Sun.
The Washington Post on Tuesday first reported that Soon-Shiong was expected to buy The Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune. A spokesman for Soon-Shiong said the billionaire was not immediately available for comment.
A Tronc representative also was not available.
Soon-Shiong had been rumored several years ago to be among a group of wealthy Angelenos who were interested in buying the Times. His interest in the paper was formalized in May 2016 when the biotech magnate invested $70.5 million in The Times' parent company, then called Tribune Publishing, since changed to Tronc Inc. His current stake is 26 percent.
At the time, the deal was seen as a coup for Tronc Chairman Michael Ferro, a way for him to fight off a hostile takeover bid by rival newspaper company Gannett. Though Ferro and Soon-Shiong presented a united front opposed to Gannett, their relationship soon soured.
Early last year, Tronc and Soon-Shiong traded barbs in a series of publicly filed letters, with Soon-Shiong saying he wanted to acquire a larger stake in the company and Tronc saying it had rebuffed the doctor's efforts to acquire The Times. An April letter from a Tronc attorney said Soon Shiong offered to buy The Times in December 2016, but was told he would have to buy all of Tronc -- which publishes 10 daily papers. "If (Soon-Shiong) wants to make such a proposal, the board will do its duty and consider it," Tronc's attorney wrote.
In recent weeks, the company has been embroiled in controversy surrounding the leadership of the Times. Publisher Ross Levinsohn, who was appointed in August, is on unpaid leave pending an investigation into sexual harassment claims while he was an executive at other companies. The Times also named Jim Kirk its new editor-in-chief last week, replacing former Forbes editor Lewis D'Vorkin after a tumultuous three-month tenure. The Times newsroom last month overwhelmingly voted to join the News Guild-Communication Workers of America.
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