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North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

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San Diego Union-Tribune sold, separating it from Los Angeles Times

Employee buyouts offered, according to memos; purchase by Alden Global Capital firm includes U-T Community Press
The+San+Diego+Union-Tribune+has+its+headquarters+in+downtown+San+Diego.+%28Google+Street+View+photo%29
The San Diego Union-Tribune has its headquarters in downtown San Diego. (Google Street View photo)

The San Diego Union-Tribune has been sold after five years of ownership by medical research magnate Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and eight years of common ownership with the Los Angeles Times.

The announcement of the sale to a MediaNews Group affiliate and separation from the Los Angeles Times was made in a memo to U-T staff members on Monday, July 10. The memo was shared to the North Coast Current on condition of anonymity and has since been confirmed by other news outlets. Follow-up announcements to U-T staff included the launch of a “voluntary separation” program for employees, often a procedure that is implemented in such sales ahead of possible layoffs.

While U-T Community Press — which publishes weeklies such as the Encinitas Advocate, Solana Beach Sun, Del Mar Times, Carmel Valley News and Rancho Santa Fe Review — is part of the sale, it is unclear what the status of those publications will be going forward as of now.

“As of this afternoon, we have completed the transaction to sell The San Diego Union-Tribune to an affiliate of MediaNews Group (MNG),” Chris Argentieri, president and chief operating officer of NantMedia/California Times, which published both papers until today, said in the memo. “We formed the California Times in 2018 when the Soon-Shiong family purchased the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune from Tribune Publishing, and have made a good faith effort to rebuild and support both news organizations. We hope that this change now will position both the L.A. Times and San Diego Union-Tribune to succeed.”

The sale price was not disclosed in the information provided to the North Coast Current.

In the memo, Soon-Shiong said the sale will allow the Los Angeles Times to focus on its own survival during a turbulent era in the news media industry.

“Our intention now is to focus on the ongoing work of transforming the L.A. Times into a self-sustaining institution,” he said in the memo. “Our hometown of Los Angeles and the state of California — really, the West Coast — needs a strong, independent news organization.”

The threads of MediaNews Group ownership link the U-T back to a previous owner, Tribune Publishing Company, all of which is currently owned by investment firm Alden Global Capital.

“We are pleased to announce that, effective today, the iconic San Diego Union-Tribune will join our portfolio of news organizations including MediaNews Group and Tribune Publishing Company, leaders throughout the nation in local news and community journalism,” Sharon Ryan executive vice president of California MediaNews Group, said in the memo. “MediaNews Group will manage the operations of the Union-Tribune under a management services agreement.”

Ryan said changes in staffing and operations would be necessary to keep the Union-Tribune functioning in economically challenging times.

“No different than the changes announced at the Los Angeles Times last month, the U-T will also need to make some difficult staffing decisions as we assume management,” Ryan said in the memo. “Reductions will be necessary to offset the slowdown in revenues as economic headwinds continue to impact the media industry.”

Memos from the Union-Tribune’s human resources division, shared with the North Coast Current on condition of anonymity, confirmed with chagrin what is possibly ahead for employees.

“It is with mixed emotions that we confirm the news of the acquisition,” the HR memo stated. “As you may be aware, an affiliate of MediaNews Group (MNG) has acquired The San Diego Union-Tribune, including UTCP (the “SDUT”), effective July 10, 2023. SDUT will continue to operate under its name, and employees continue to be employed by SDUT, as it continues to deliver impactful journalism. However, SDUT is no longer affiliated with the Los Angeles Times and is no longer part of the NantMedia (aka California Times) portfolio.”

The HR memo stated that automatic layoffs were not occurring. Layoffs were not out of the question, however.

“Current employees are and will continue to be employed by the SDUT,” the memo stated. “Employment is not automatically terminated due to the acquisition.”

Further information in an additional HR memo stated that if not enough employees take buyouts through the Voluntary Separation Plan, layoffs would be the next step.

“Please note that if the Company does not reach a sufficient number of employees who accept the VSP, the Company will lay off additional employees,” the memo stated.

The sale marks a new chapter in a story of challenges for The San Diego Union-Tribune going back more than a decade.

In May 2009, the decades-long ownership of the Copley family ended when the U-T was sold to Platinum Equity. In November 2011, San Diego developer Douglas Manchester purchased the paper and attempted to launch a broadcasting division. In October 2012, Manchester bought the competing daily North County Times and folded it shortly after. Manchester went on to purchase a group of weekly community newspapers, which now make up U-T Community Press.

In May 2015, Tribune Publishing, then owner of the Los Angeles Times, bought the U-T, bringing the two papers together. Soon-Shiong bought the pair in 2018.

(This story was updated on Thursday, July 13, at 12:30 a.m.)