South African-born media entrepreneur, doctor and billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong has signed, what is reportedly, a close to $500 million (R6 billion) deal with Tronc Inc. to take over Los Angeles Times.
The physician’s investment company NantWorks is set to pay the $500 million and is expected to assume $90 million in pension liabilities.
Soon-Shiong is reportedly one of the wealthiest men in Los Angeles and is, according to Forbes, the richest doctor in the world with an estimated net worth of $7.8 billion (close to R95 billion).
Tronc Inc., a Chicago-based publishing group and LA Times’s parent company, announced on Wednesday that the publishing group had signed a deal with the biotech investor, which will also include handing over the reins for the San Diego Union-Tribune and the other California News Group titles.
Many have welcomed the deal lauding the fact that The Times will be in local hands again.
The LA Times Guild, who last month was voted in to represent employees says: “The LA Times Guild looks forward to working with a local owner who can help us preserve The Times as a guardian of our community and as the voice of the American West."
Others are hoping the sale will bring the much-needed stability to the struggling title amidst negative publicity that came with the sexual allegations against its publisher Ross Levinsohn, dips in readership, decreasing revenue and tension in the newsroom between staff, as well as the establishment of The Times’s first ever union in 136 years.
Despite renewed optimism, some question what the power handover will mean for the editorial independence considering Soon-Shiong has fingers in a number of pies in the pharmaceutical and biotech world.
Within the healthcare industry, Soon-Shiong is a controversial figure. An initiative launched by Soon-Shiong to eradicate cancer by 2020 has been dubbed "an elaborate marketing tool" for his company by STAT News.
Soon-Shiong has issued a statement saying: "We look forward to continuing the great tradition of award-winning journalism carried out by the reporters and editors of the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune and the other California News Group titles."
The 65-year-old billionaire-doctor was born in Port Elizabeth in South Africa in 1952, matriculated at the age of 16 and completed his medical studies at the University of Witwatersrand when he was 22 years old.