As speculation continues regarding the putative takeover of the L.A. Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune by Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad, other would-be suitors are emerging who could challenge the wealthy Democrat in a possibly high-stakes bidding war for the troubled journalistic enterprises.
Broad remains first in line for prospective control of the papers in the eyes of many. But one observer postulating against a sale by Tribune is Poynter Institute blogger Rick Edmunds, who argues it would be tough for Tribune to part with the Times and still exist as a going concern.
"It would make no sense to shed the company’s largest asset, which provides an estimated 40 percent of revenues," says Edmunds in a September 16 post.
"The billionaire savior scenario fits in cities (Washington, Boston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia) where the paper is already on its own — much less frequently when targeting one property in a chain."
Still, the drumbeat against Tribune ownership continues, orchestrated at least in part by well-funded Broad backers, including an opinion piece by Tribune-fired publisher Austin Beutner that popped up on CNN's website September 22, singing his own praises.
"We created Essential California, an email newsletter to share the pulse of California," wrote Beutner, an ex–L.A. deputy mayor under Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa and a Hillary Clinton backer who once worked in the presidential administration of her husband Bill.
"In our conversation about the drought, Gov. Jerry Brown had a platform to answer questions with more than a 20-second soundbite, our most engaged subscribers got to witness history, our sponsors invested in a connection with the audience, a TV audience of 1 million households across California learned about a complicated policy issue, and the Times created content for print and the web which was read by more than 1.5 million customers."
Beutner's summer appearance with Brown raised a number of eyebrows, with LAObserved.com’s Kevin Roderick noting August 10, "When the Times made a big deal in June about interviewing Gov. Jerry Brown on the drought, it was Beutner rather than any of the journalists who did the interview."
An outright takeover of the Times and the Union-Tribune by Broad, accompanied by the return of Beutner, his longtime associate in efforts to buy the L.A. paper, could raise the specter of even more political intrigue among the ranks of San Diego media types, extending the city’s storied history of news manipulation.
Meanwhile, Broad is not the only super-rich Angeleno said to be interested in grabbing control of the Times.
The latest contender, according to a September 22 report by the Los Angeles Business Journal, may be Patrick Soon-Shiong, identified as "the wealthiest person in Los Angeles."
The paper quoted an unidentified source close to Soon-Shiong as saying the Times offer “isn’t that far along, but he is seriously considering it now,” The account added, "this development confirms the Business Journal’s earlier report that other parties could be interested.”
According to Forbes, Soon-Shiong, with a net worth of $12.5 billion, is "the world's richest doctor," and proprietor of Nantworks, which the magazine says "would connect all the data about a patient in the hospital, and combine it with genetic information on a level nobody else is imagining. "
As it happens, the physician turned genomics tycoon has been a big customer of San Diego–based Illumina, maker of HiSeq X Ten, a DNA sequencer that has been the beneficiary of glowing U-T coverage.
A fellow Illumina customer is La Jolla's controversial Craig Venter, the wealthy UCSD alumnus and sequencing pioneer often covered as a virtual demigod by the U-T.
Like Venter, Soon-Shiong has his skeptics, as noted in December of last year by Forbes science writer Matthew Herper.
"Sometimes Soon-Shiong makes statements that can be, at best, misleading," wrote Herper.
"Some of Soon-Shiong’s claims make it into peer-reviewed journals, but many of them don’t. It can be hard to know which parts are true and which aren’t."
Regardless of his money-making prowess elsewhere, if Soon-Shiong does acquire the Union-Tribune, his deep pockets may prove handy in San Diego.
After making its $83 million U-T purchase in May, Tribune Publishing shut down printing operations here and shifted the work to a Times plant in downtown L.A, justifying the move as an economy measure.
Shorn of presses and leasing its current Mission Valley headquarters from ex-owner Doug Manchester, who recently sold the property, any new owner of the San Diego paper would be faced with having to contract out its printing, as well as eventually find new company digs, both potentially costly undertakings.