Was Soon-Shiong outsmarted?

U-T's cult-of-personality profile jumps deal's gun

Sunday's U-T rolled out the red carpet.
  • Sunday's U-T rolled out the red carpet.

Sunday, April 15 was the Union-Tribune's celebration day for Los Angeles physician Patrick Soon-Shiong, the paper's putative new owner, also set to acquire the L.A. Times from the oddly named and deeply troubled tronc, Inc. of Chicago.

Full-length photo with caption on Sunday (April 15) cover of Union-Tribune

Full-length photo with caption on Sunday (April 15) cover of Union-Tribune

The U-T rolled out the red carpet in its traditional cult-of-personality style with a towering front-page photo of Soon-Shiong, accompanied by a glowing 2600-word profile.

"Look, San Diego is an important city,” the pharma billionaire assured the U-T's John Wilkens.

“It has strengths that L.A. does not have. It is a community in its own right with its own vibe and feel. People in San Diego never want to live in L.A. and some people vice-versa and so we need to tell the stories that are important to that community. So this is not an L.A.-driven San Diego paper, if that’s the concern. It cannot be because that would defeat the purpose.”

That was received as good news by locals here who have been fretting over whether U-T operations might be relocated to Los Angeles — or somewhere in the vicinity.

On Friday in L.A., Soon-Shiong revealed to unsettled Times employees gathered for the occasion in the paper's downtown headquarters that he was moving the paper's offices and newsroom to El Segundo, a small city south of LAX where the biotech maven is concentrating his holdings.

But Soon-Shiong's takeover tour is still missing an essential element: his purported $500 million agreement to buy the two papers and associated weeklies remains an un-done deal, and Wall Street's rumor mill has it that both he and tronc are each seeking leverage to edge the final price closer to their respective goals.

A late Thursday report by the New York Post that New York billionaire Leon Black, a controversial veteran of Mike Milken's junk bond outfit, was a possible tronc acquirer "may have been designed to ensure [Soon-Shiong] doesn't force a downward renegotiation," according to an Axios account.

Regarding Soon-Shiong, the item added, "The bigger question is why he paid so much for a piece when he could have had the rest for just another couple hundred million (including the Chicago Tribune).

"'No one can believe he didn't buy the whole thing,' a source says."

For other observers, Soon-Shiong's Friday roll-out at the L.A. Times, coming the day after the Post piece, seemed designed to keep his bid on track and pressure tronc to divest the Times and U-T to him at a bargain price point.

Axios reports that Japanese multinational Softbank Group has surfaced as the latest rumored tronc buyer. On Friday, Michael Ferro, the Chicago wheeler-dealer who used to run tronc, agreed to sell his entire stake 25.6 percent in tronc to an entity affiliated with Chicago's McCormick family, which years ago owned tronc's Chicago Tribune.

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Is there any real estate in play? You know, like the land in Mission Valley where the UT once resided?

That land was already sold off, I believe last year.

Yes, and the old U-T headquarters has been under reconstruction for quite some time.

Based on Matt's report from late last week, I was mildly incredulous to see that huge splash on the front of yesterday's U-T. It seemed to be making the takeover official, and now we know it wasn't. If/when Soon actually buys the U-T, I'd not want to be in the shoes of the writer(s) and the editor of that piece. Oh, it was flattering for sure, to a point of embarrassment, sort of like the bio the paper did on Dougo when he owned it.

His comment about the U-T not being "an L.A.-driven San Diego paper" is nonsense. It already is just that, and has been for just about as long as it has had common ownership with the LA Times.

It just keeps getting crazier, doesn't it?

I'm happy the U-T decided not to have a centerfold photo of Patrick Soon-Shiong. ;-)

Unless and until the UT becomes a locally owned and operated newspaper it will be just another out-of-town/stat corporate owned rag. I doubt that the subscriptions will support a locally owned UT so its damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Subscriptions to the paper continue to decline, and newsrack/newsstands sales don't make up for that. (When was the last time you saw a newsstand other than in an airport?) Whether it is locally owned or not, its future as a print product is bleak, unless something comes along to make people want to pay for it delivered to their homes. I don't see that in the cards.

The newsrack price was ridiculous. As the paper got smaller, the price for one copy got higher. That made NO sense at all. But "tronc" had no sense at all.

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