Los Angeles Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong on Friday reaffirmed his commitment to the news organization.
Soon-Shiong made the statement shortly after the Wall Street Journal published an article saying Soon-Shiong was exploring a sale of the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune less than three years after he purchased the beleaguered news organizations from Chicago-based Tribune Publishing.
"WSJ article inaccurate. We are committed to the @LATimes," Soon-Shiong wrote on Twitter.
Soon-Shiong's daughter, Nika Soon-Shiong, who has been involved in high-level management issues at the paper in the last year, quickly echoed her father's statement. "WSJ is 100% wrong," she wrote in a Twitter message.
WSJ article inaccurate. We are committed to the @LATimes
— Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong (@DrPatSoonShiong) February 19, 2021
When asked about the discrepancy, Wall Street Journal spokesman Steve Severinghaus said: “We are aware of Dr. Soon-Shiong’s tweet. We are confident in our reporting and will continue to follow this developing story.”
The dispute comes three days after Tribune Publishing announced it had agreed to be sold to New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital for $630 million. Alden Global needs support for that deal from Soon-Shiong, who owns 24% of Tribune Publishing separately from his holdings in Southern California. Holders of two-thirds of Tribune common stock not owned by Alden must approve the sale.
Soon-Shiong hasn't weighed in publicly on whether he will approve the proposed Alden Global Capital purchase of Tribune Publishing.
The Journal report said options being considered included "an outright sale of the entire company, bringing in an additional investor ... or transferring management of the San Diego publication to another company, possibly Alden Global Capital Inc.’s MediaNews Group."
The article unnerved journalists who work at Soon-Shiong's properties. The mention of Alden Global Capital, which has a reputation for deep cuts at the papers it has acquired, alarmed reporters in San Diego who immediately questioned whether Soon-Shiong was committed to continuing his stewardship of the Union-Tribune because he did not mention the San Diego paper in an initial tweet. (A follow-up tweet did mention the Union-Tribune.)
While profitable, the Union-Tribune has a challenging finance picture due to significant pension liabilities left over from past ownership regimes. Newsroom leaders said they were told Soon-Shiong wasn't looking to unload the San Diego outlet.
"Dr. Soon-Shiong and his family continue to invest in and plan for the future of the California Times, which includes the L.A. Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, and do not plan to sell," Chris Argentieri, president and chief operating officer, said in an email sent to employees at both papers.
Jeff Light, editor in chief and publisher of the Union-Tribune, also tried to calm the waters. "I wanted to jump in and make clear that nothing is going on with ownership of the Union-Tribune, and there is nothing to read into Patrick’s omission of San Diego from his first tweet," Light told his staff in an email. "We are not being sold to Alden, and there is nothing afoot with ownership of the U-T."
Soon-Shiong, a biotech entrepreneur, and his wife, Michele, purchased The Times and the Union-Tribune in June 2018 for $500 million. Since then the company, now called California Times, has embarked on an unprecedented hiring spree, adding more than 150 journalists to The Times. Soon-Shiong has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild The Times, strengthen its journalism, build out its new El Segundo campus and expand its audio and video offerings, including a partnership with Charter Communications' Spectrum cable television service.
His efforts to turn around the paper have been slowed because of years of underinvestment by Tribune Publishing. The paper has labored to rebuild the technology to support its website and digital apps, and it has struggled to recruit and retain as many digital subscribers as The Times desperately needs. The Times was making progress with its revenue goals a year ago — until fears about the COVID-19 pandemic obliterated the advertising market.
The Times also grappled with internal turmoil last summer and a painful reckoning on its historic treatment of race in the newsroom and its news pages.
The Wall Street Journal article noted that Soon-Shiong did not immediately respond to a request for a comment before it published the article.
The Times' spokeswoman, Hillary Manning, said the Wall Street Journal reporter reached out to Soon-Shiong Friday morning for comment and asked whether the information was inaccurate. But Manning said the Wall Street Journal did not wait for a response from the company before publishing. Manning shared the statement sent to the Wall Street Journal one minute before it posted the story:
"Dr. Soon-Shiong and his family continue to invest in and plan for the future of the Los Angeles Times, and do not plan to sell," Manning wrote to the Journal reporter. "What you were told did not come from a credible source, as there are several inaccuracies. We respectfully ask that you not rely on any unnamed or off-the-record sources for this story. The information lacks a basis in fact."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.