Tronc Pushes Into Digital Future After Los Angeles Times Sale

Lucy Nicholson  Reuters

The deal requires the approval of federal regulators and is expected to close by early in the second quarter.

The price tag compares favorably to several other legacy newspaper transactions.

Tronc plans to use the $500 million it will receive to repay the company's outstanding debt, in addition to reducing its pension liabilities and bolstering its cash position.

Tronc said the deal will allow it to follow a more aggressive growth strategy focused on news and digital media. Tronc did not immediately respond to requests for additional comment.

Separately on Wednesday, it announced the purchase of a majority stake in BestReviews, a product review site that offers online links to buy goods.

A doctor by trade, Soon-Shiong has feuded with Tronc's leadership since becoming a minority shareholder and taking a 26% stake in the company.

Soon-Shiong's Nant Capital made a $70.5 million investment in Tronc in 2016, a move seen then as an attempt by Ferro to fend off a hostile takeover by Gannett.

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The journalists in the Los Angeles Times newsroom also voted overwhelmingly to form a union last month. Times publisher Ross Levinsohn, who sat out the last few months while charges of sexual misconduct against him were investigated, will lead the division.

The company said an independent investigation found "no wrongdoing" on Levinsohn's part. The parent filed for bankruptcy shortly after, then emerged from protection in 2012 and spun off Tribune Publishing in 2014. The publishing unit, later named Tronc, had to pay a $275 million dividend to its broadcast parent company.

Tronc had $185 million in cash at the end of the third quarter.

Clashes between The Los Angeles Times and Tribune Co., which changed its name to Tronc Inc., erupted not long after it acquired the West Coast paper in 2000.

A biotech billionaire struck a $500 million deal Wednesday to buy the Los Angeles Times, ending the paper's quarrelsome relationship with its Chicago-based corporate overseers and bringing it under local ownership for the first time in 18 years. The bid will also include the Times' sister newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, according to the Washington Post.

In an interview with the Times a year ago, Soon-Shiong declined to say if he planned to buy the newspaper, although he acknowledged that as a major stockholder he was unhappy with the way it was being run and felt a need to ensure its survival.

The agreement between Los Angeles medical entrepreneur Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and Tronc Inc. represents the latest instance of a rich, civic-minded individual purchasing a newspaper from a big corporation.

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