Tronc confirms $500M LA, SD newspaper sales; shares +27%

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It was announced Wednesday that the Los Angeles Times is being sold to Soon-Shiong, a local billionaire, for $500 million, ending its strained tenure under the owner of the Chicago Tribune.

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. The company will also remain the owner of the Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Baltimore Sun and New York Daily News.

In a separate statement, Tronc said it acquired a majority ownership stake in BestReviews, an online product review company based in San Francisco.

"This transaction allows us to fully repay our outstanding debt, significantly lower our pension liabilities and have a substantial cash position, following the close of the transaction", Tronc Chief Executive Justin Dearborn said in a statement.

The sale of the Times, one of the largest newspapers in Tronc's portfolio, is a setback in the media company's plan to develop a national network of multimedia production built on the foundation of some of the country's most storied media brands.

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Tronc originally courted Soon-Shiong's investment as a way of staving off a take-over effort from Gannett.

Tronc will receive $500 million in cash under the terms of the transaction.

The journalists in the Los Angeles Times newsroom also voted overwhelmingly to form a union last month. The Times just replaced its top editor, the third such switch in six months, and publisher Ross Levinsohn had been on unpaid leave after it was learned he was a defendant in two sexual harassment lawsuits elsewhere.

"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. The publishing unit, later named Tronc, had to pay a $275 million dividend to its broadcast parent company.

The Los Angeles Times, acquired by Tronc's predecessor Tribune Co in 2000, has undergone several management changes and rounds of layoffs, reflecting a struggle by newspapers in general to adapt to digital media.

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Watch Tronc's shares trade in real time here.

Soon-Shiong became a major investor about 18 months ago, and has been an outspoken critic of the way Tronc has run the Times.

In December 2016, Soon-Shiong discussed buying the Los Angeles Times, but Tronc rejected that offer, saying in a subsequent attorney letter that "the only way for (him) to own the LA Times is to acquire the whole company".

Soon-Shiong, 65, amassed his fortune in part by developing a cancer drug in 1991.

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