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What That Billionaire Doc Is Buying: A Timeline of the L.A. Times' Recent Operatic Dysfunction

By Published on .

Los Angeles Times HQ in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Times HQ in Los Angeles. Credit: tupungato/iStock

"Biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong has agreed to purchase the Los Angeles Times from its parent company Tronc, restoring local ownership and perhaps ending a turbulent period for the storied 136-year-old institution," per the Times itself. "Chicago-based Tronc on Wednesday announced the sale of the Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune to Soon-Shiong's investment firm Nant Capital for nearly $500 million in cash. In addition to the purchase price, the deal includes the assumption of $90 million in pension liabilities."

The Times answers the obvious question about the doctor-turned-entrepreneur in a companion piece headlined "Who is Patrick Soon-Shiong? An L.A. billionaire with big ideas—and mixed achievements."

As for what getting he's getting of the deal, well, particularly in regard to The Los Angeles Times, Soon-Shiong is inheriting a lot of drama—of an operatic scale unpredecented in the recent history of media companies. Here, a brief tick-tock of notable Times-related news over the past half year:

Aug. 21, 2017: "In a dramatic shake-up at the Los Angeles Times," the Times itself reports, its Chicago-based parent company Tronc "installed new leadership and plans to invest more resources in the news organization to move it more quickly into the digital age." Out the door: Davan Maharaj, who served as editor and publisher since only March 2016. Newly in charge: Fox and Yahoo veteran—and newspaper-industry virgin—Ross Levinsohn as publisher and CEO, plus Jim Kirk as interim executive editor (he'd previously been Chicago Sun-Times publisher and editor).

Oct. 9, 2017: "Los Angeles Times Names Lewis D'Vorkin as Top Editor," The New York Times reports. The appointment of the former Forbes executive is met "with some skepticism in the newsroom," per the NYT, which cites journalists worried that "Mr. D'Vorkin will be more focused on clicks and advertising, rather than pursuing ambitious journalism."

Jan. 18, 2018: NPR airs a piece on "All Things Considered" and an accompanying story online that puts a harsh spotlight on Ross Levinsohn. The web version of the report, by NPR News Media Correspondent David Folkenflik, is headlined "Accusations Of 'Frat House' Behavior Trail 'LA Times' Publisher's Career." A quick summary of the story comes courtesy of members of the Los Angeles Times Guild organizing committee, who release a statement titled "Not fit to lead the Los Angeles Times," that reads, in part,

We are appalled by the findings in the NPR story. Ross Levinsohn should resign or be fired immediately. A man who sexually harasses women, engages in "slut-shaming" and refers to gay men as "fags" is not fit to lead our newspaper. Tronc and its board of directors must be held accountable for their failure to properly vet Levinsohn for one of the most important positions at the company and in American journalism.

Jan. 19: Tronc announces that Levinson has been placed on unpaid leave while the company conducts an investigation into his past behavior.

Also on Jan. 19: "In historical vote, Los Angeles Times newsroom will form union," per USA Today. "The Times vote followed rising discontent with working conditions as the paper slashed jobs and struggled with declining advertising revenues and falling circulation in the face of online competition."

Jan. 24: The Columbia Journalism Review publishes a harsh feature story focused on Lewis D'Vorkin that calls him (per the headline) "LA journalism's 'Prince of Darkness'."

Jan. 29: "Lewis D'Vorkin, the embattled editor in chief of the Los Angeles Times, is being replaced by veteran Chicago journalist Jim Kirk in a dramatic shakeup at the newspaper that follows weeks of tumult in the newsroom," per NPR. "D'Vorkin, 65, will become Tronc's chief content officer."

Also Jan. 29: "New L.A. Times Editor Jim Kirk vows 'fresh start' to unify newsroom after turmoil," per Times reporter Meg James, who writes,

"I want to start fresh and bring this newsroom together," Kirk told the nearly 200 newsroom employees who attended the meeting. "There has been too much not-togetherness in the past few months, and if we want to be successful, that has to change." It was a starkly different tone than that set by D'Vorkin, who conducted two contentious staff meetings, including one in which he scolded employees after discovering that someone had leaked a recording of a previous gathering to the New York Times. D'Vorkin had begun assembling a separate team of journalists to create digital content for social media and mobile phones. But he had declined to discuss those plans, raising suspicions among reporters, editors, photographers and producers.

In a sign of the turmoil not only at the L.A. Times but at Tronc, James notes that Kirk had only recently changed positions at the parent company:

Kirk was managing the recently acquired New York Daily News as its interim editor, an assignment he was handed one week before. He returned to his Chicago home for the weekend, where he got a call asking whether he wanted to lead The Times' newsroom. Monday morning, he was on his way to California. Kirk becomes The Times' 17th top editor since the paper began publishing in 1881—and its third in the last six months.

Feb. 7: "Billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong reaches deal to buy L.A. Times and San Diego Union-Tribune," per the Los Angeles Times.

Plus, also today, a coda to the Levinsohn drama: "L.A. Times publisher Ross Levinsohn cleared of wrongdoing; will become CEO of new Tronc unit," per the Times.

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