‘I overpaid,’ says new L.A. Times owner. But he says it was worth it.

October 3, 2018
Category: Newsletters

Soon-Shiong talks LAT investment and helping small papers; NYT Trump tax blockbuster; Silicon Valley's 'monoculture'

The billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Times faced a room of digital and Hollywood executives on Tuesday and made a quick acknowledgement.

"I overpaid," Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong said, explaining his $500 million purchase of the Times, along with The San Diego Union Tribune, in June. “It wasn’t the money. It wasn’t the business. It was, 'Do we want this paper to exist or not?'”

In the same interview, Soon-Shiong spoke of the possibilities of the Times, both in print and on a media network with super-fast transmission and moves into streaming video and esports. He said he is investing $100 million in the paper.

He would not comment specifically on reported negotiations with the company he calls Tribune ("I hate the word 'Tronc'") and McClatchy of a purchase on a debt-for-equity swap that would give McClatchy control of remaining Tribune papers. Soon-Shiong owns 25 percent of Tribune stock.

"One of the most important things about McClatchy is that it supports very small local papers," he said. "If we can help them survive, that’s something we should do.”

Soon-Shiong said he did not consider the New York Times and Washington Post competitors; rather, working together, they could help lift all boats in U.S. journalism. He said the engineering team from his parent company is helping on L.A. Times issues, such as its poor mobile site. He said he foresees real-time videos from text and ample use of machine learning technology. He's also approved a hiring spree in the L.A. Times' Washington bureau, the reopening of its Seoul bureau and the opening of its Singapore bureau, and the addition of new deputy managing editor Sewell Chan and the paper's new transformation editor, Kris Viesselman. 

“At the end of the day, it’s storytelling,” he said.

But Soon-Shiong has fluid views on storytelling. They range from the Dirty John podcast (and now Bravo TV series) with 20 million downloads to "Second Opinion," an expanded op-ed idea that appears akin to the Washington Post's Post Everything idea. He also talked about the low-latency transmission lines he'll use from a rehabbed arena space next to the LAT's new headquarters for book fairs, esports showdowns and perhaps presidential debates. 

The South African-born polymath, who says he has nearly 200 patents, has worked on everything from cancer cures to reduction of hydrocarbons, from developing a sound-based "reader" to help the blind handle money to creating a game to help children pass the time while brushing their teeth.

At the end of the session, The Wrap's Sharon Waxman asked: Is there any world problem you haven't started working to fix?

Soon-Shiong didn't miss a beat. To laughter and applause, he replied: "How to get this government to work together."

Quick hits

BIG STORY: A blockbuster New York Times basically puts to bed President Trump's oft-told tale that he was a self-made tycoon who parlayed a tiny stake from his rich dad into an empire. The Times reported Trump, through "suspect tax schemes," received at least $413 million in today’s dollars from his father’s real estate empire, much of it through tax dodges in the 1990s. Related: A locked office, a phony company: Behind the NYT's yearlong investigation.

ALARM CLOCK: Will the Democrats wake up before 2020? Dan Balz has the cover story for Sunday’s redesigned Washington Post magazine. “At this point, Democrats are bracing for a wide-open nomination contest,” Balz writes, and anybody — and everybody — has a toe in the water.

SHIPPED OUT: Nicaragua arrested and deported a freelance reporter for the Guardian and The Washington Post who was covering demonstrations against the nation’s authoritarian regime. Carl-David  Goette-Luciak was the victim of a "targeted online harassment campaign," the Committee to Protect Journalists says.

WHY SO WHITE?: When Brittany Shepherd became a White House correspondent at age 23, she realized two things: She was way younger than most. Also, just how white the press corps was. She urges readers and editors to recognize the Root, Voice of America, BuzzFeed or the Daily Caller, all of which employ non-white correspondents. “While our ranks are few,” Shepherd writes in the Washingtonian, “there are minority reporters that you don’t see or may not have heard of, mostly because we’re crammed into the aisles or in the back rows of press conferences.”

WHY SO ALONE?: After 10 movies that topped the box office in their first weekend of release, including last weekend’s “Night School,” Will Packer says he still regularly finds himself the only person of color in the room in Hollywood. “But I’ve always felt like that gave me an advantage,” he told Hollywood and digital executives at TheGrill conference in L.A. “Nobody knows my perspective and my lens like me.”

WHY SO MALE?: A Silicon Valley “satire” issues a strong critique on the “monoculture of thought” by a mostly male, mostly engineering elite that hampers tech growth. Jessica Powell, a former Google PR chief, and her novel “The Big Disruption” are profiled by the NYT’s Farhad Manjoo. The novel is free on Medium.

DIGITAL STRIP SEARCH: In New Zealand, customs officials demand your social media passwords — or you risk a $5,000 fine.

READER (REVENUE) FIRST: What does it take to orient a media company to reader revenue, beyond a paywall? By Damon Kiesow for American Press Institute.

THE WRONG READER FEEDBACK: Shashank Bengali wrote a story about the illegal trade in human organs. Then the emails began. Readers from all over the world had written — wanting to sell him their kidneys.

DON'T BE THAT JOURNALIST: Here are seven things you should know about guns before reporting on them, via Denise-Marie Ordway from the excellent Journalist's Resource. (h/t Al Tompkins)

MOVES: Sean Hollister is rejoining The Verge, this time as senior news editor. A co-founder of The Verge, Hollister comes from CNET and was previously at Gizmodo. 

On Poynter.org

  • Female journalists are disproportionately targeted for sexual harassment and assault — and I'm proof. By British journalist Hannah Storm.

  • Three Pennsylvania outlets are teaming up to cover the statehouse. By Kristen Hare.

  • At local nonprofit news sites, revenues of more than $325 million — and 2,200 journalists. By Rick Edmonds.

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Have a good Wednesday.

This story has been modified to correct the spelling of Brittany Shepherd's name.