Los Angeles Times sold to local billionaire for $500 million

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong has become the first local owner of the Times in 18 years, but is buying the paper in a time of turmoil. (AP)
Updated 07 February 2018
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Los Angeles Times sold to local billionaire for $500 million

LOS ANGELES: A billionaire doctor 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 agreement between Los Angeles-based medical entrepreneur Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and Tronc Inc. marks the latest instance of a rich, civic-minded individual buying a newspaper from a big corporation.
Soon-Shiong is a major shareholder of Chicago’s Tronc Inc., one of the richest men in Los Angeles and, according to Forbes, the nation’s wealthiest doctor, with a net worth of $7.8 billion.
The deal includes The San Diego Union-Tribune, various titles in the California News Group and the assumption of $90 million in pension liabilities.
Soon-Shiong takes over in a time of turmoil at the paper. The Times just replaced its top editor, the third switch at the position in the newsroom in six months. Publisher Ross Levinsohn had been on unpaid leave after revelations that he was a defendant in two sexual harassment lawsuits elsewhere. Tronc announced Wednesday that Levinsohn has been cleared of any wrongdoing and would be reinstated as CEO of its newly reorganized Tribune Interactive division.
Journalists voted last month to unionize for the first time in the paper’s 136-year history.
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. Staff at the Times bristled over what it considered a string of bad decisions made from hundreds of miles away in Chicago. Tronc owns the Chicago Tribune.
The editor of the Los Angeles Times, John Carroll, who led the paper to 13 Pulitzer Prizes, resigned under heavy pressure to cut staff. Before he left, he asked an old friend and billionaire philanthropist if he would consider buying the paper.
Publisher John Puerner stepped down at the Times, as did his successor, Jeffrey Johnson, shortly after.
Dean Baquet, who took over for Carroll, left after 15 months. He is now the executive editor at The New York Times.
The sale of the Los Angeles Times is in keeping with one of two trends in media ownership: big companies getting bigger and wealthy investors taking on newspapers as philanthropic endeavors, said Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute.
In 2013, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post for $250 million. Boston Red Sox owner John Henry bought The Boston Globe for $70 million.
“We find ourselves returning to where we were a century ago when a handful of wealthy owners controlled big influential newspapers,” Tompkins said. “Here’s the difference: The ownership today does not promise lucrative returns. You take it over knowing it isn’t nearly as profitable as it might have been 20 or 50 years ago. Today it’s a thinner margin and it gets thinner every day.”
Soon-Shiong also holds a minority interest in the Los Angeles Lakers, acquired in 2011 from Magic Johnson, the team’s former superstar and current president of basketball operations.
In an interview with the Times last year, Soon-Shiong acknowledged that as a major stockholder, he was unhappy with the way the Los Angeles Times was being run and felt a need to ensure its survival.
“I am concerned there are other agendas, independent of the newspaper’s needs or the fiduciary obligations to the viability of the organization,” he said at the time. “My goal is to try and preserve the integrity and the viability of the newspaper.”
After The Washington Post first reported a potential sale Tuesday, cheers spread through the Times newsroom.
Tronc said the deal will allow it to follow a more aggressive growth strategy focused on news and digital media. Acquisitions will continue to be a big part of its plan, Tronc said Wednesday, and the company announced that it’s buying a majority stake in online product review company BestReviews for an undisclosed amount.
The sale comes about a week after veteran Chicago journalist Jim Kirk was named editor in chief to replace Lewis D’Vorkin, whose short tenure was marked by clashes with staff.
Kirk, 52, had briefly served in the job during a management overhaul from August until November, when D’Vorkin joined the paper. D’Vorkin will stay on with Tronc as Chief Content Officer of Tribune Interactive, the company said Wednesday.
Reporters at the Times were alarmed by recent hiring of several news executives who reported to business executives, and not to news editors. That sparked fears the business side would wield undue influence in editorial matters. Traditionally, the editorial and business sides of a paper work separately to maintain journalistic credibility.
A return to local ownership would restore pride at the Times, said veteran media business analyst Ken Doctor.
The question is whether a new owner will do more than halt cutbacks by reinvesting, as Bezos and Henry did at their newspapers, to set the Times on a new path.
“Given the huge challenges still faced by news publishing in the age of Google/Facebook ad duopoly and still-onrushing digital disruption, even a billionaire has his work cut out for him,” Doctor said.


Facebook targets fake news in Arabic language media

Updated 30 min 27 sec ago
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Facebook targets fake news in Arabic language media

  • Social media giant reveals plans to roll out further initiatives across the Arab world
  • “We want to empower people to decide what to read, trust and share”

LONDON: Facebook has again found itself under scrutiny amid global efforts to stamp out fake news circulating on social media sites. Nashwa Aly, Facebook’s head of public policy for the Middle East and North Africa, spoke to Arab News about the company’s new Arabic-language fact-checking service.
Q: Has the fact-checking service in Arabic already started? If so, are there any results as to how many articles are being flagged as false?
A: The third-party fact-checking in Arabic rolls out as of this month, so still no results to share yet. We recognize the implications of false news on Facebook and we are committed to doing a better job to fight it. More than 181 million people use Facebook every month across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), so this is a responsibility that we take very seriously, and we’re excited to see through the this launch in partnership with AFP MENA. 
How many people will be working on it and what kind of volume of false stories do you expect to identify daily?
It varies by country, but AFP draws on the resources of multiple local bureaus, as well as centralized Arabic-speaking fact-checkers, to fact-check content.
Why did Facebook choose to enter into this initiative? Is the fake news problem any worse in Arabic compared with other languages? Are there any specific issues in challenging this problem in Arabic compared with other languages?
This expansion with AFP, with whom we already have successful fact-checking partnerships across the Latin American and Asia Pacific regions, is a step forward in our efforts to combat Arabic-language misinformation, and we will continue to take steps to expand our efforts globally this year. This initiative is particularly important across MENA, given that misinformation is a major concern in the region.
The present challenges do not necessarily stem from the Arabic language. However, there are some challenges that can arise, such as how to treat opinion and satire. We strongly believe that people should be able to debate different ideas, even controversial ones. We also recognize that there can be a fine line between misinformation and satire or opinion. This can make it more difficult for fact-checkers to assess whether an article should be rated as “false” or left alone.
It appears from the announcement that Facebook will not be actively removing “fake news” links identified under this initiative with AFP. Is that right, and if so, do you think the initiative goes far enough?
The way this will work is that when fact-checkers rate a story as false, we significantly reduce its distribution in News Feed — dropping future views on average by more than
80 percent. Pages and domains that repeatedly share false news will also see their distribution reduced, and their ability to monetize and advertise removed.
We also want to empower people to decide what to read, trust, and share. When third-party fact-checkers write articles about a news story, we show them in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed. We also send people and Page Admins notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that has been determined to be false.
Finally, to give people more control, we encourage them to tell us when they see false news. Feedback from our community is one of the various signals that we use to identify potential hoaxes. 
Facebook also entered into an initiative with the UAE National Media Council to fight fake news. Is it looking to any other agreements in this field regionally, especially in Saudi Arabia?
The partnership with the UAE National Media Council and the launch of third-party fact-checking in Arabic, in partnership with AFP MENA are both key steps in our efforts against false news but are not nearly done yet. We plan to continue to take steps to expand our efforts this year both globally and regionally.