COVER STORY

To Live and Die at the L.A. Times

Patrick Soon-Shiong bought the Los Angeles Times in a $500 million deal and is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to reverse the damage caused by years of neglect. He calls it his “100-year project” and says that resurrecting the newspaper is vital for democracy.
KEVIN SCANLON
Patrick Soon-Shiong bought the Los Angeles Times in a $500 million deal and is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to reverse the damage caused by years of neglect. He calls it his “100-year project” and says that resurrecting the newspaper is vital for democracy.
Billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong bought the Los Angeles Times and inherited a hot mess of plummeting revenues, declining circulation, unionization, and a damaging cyberattack. That was the easy part.

The cyberattack that crippled the Los Angeles Times’ production system a couple of days after Christmas at first appeared to be just a glitchy computer server. But then the virus struck again, much more seriously. By the time the malware had worked its way through the Times’ technology infrastructure, it had completely befouled the connections between the newspaper’s editorial computers and its printing presses. Thousands of Times subscribers got their morning papers late or not at all.

The attack was attributed to Russian cybercriminals. Press reports called it a harbinger of potential wider threats to U.S. computer and industrial infrastructures. But for the Times, the malware attack late last year was a pungent metaphor for its recent past. The virus struck computer systems left over from the paper’s 2018 decoupling from Tribune Publishing Company—and was the latest in a chain of calamities to bedevil the Times since Tribune’s purchase of the paper in 2000.

Newspapers everywhere have it tough these days: the internet and changing consumer habits have cratered their traditional readership and business models. But over the past couple of decades, few papers have had as tumultuous a ride as the Los Angeles Times. The paper has been plagued by mismanagement, sharp declines in circulation and advertising, staff cutbacks, a revolving cast of publishers and editors, employee dissent, a headquarters relocation, and internal scandals.

Most remarkably, given the paper’s historically antagonistic stance against organized labor, the Times’ newsroom staff voted early last year to unionize—a defiant act that, perversely, may have helped to finally break the corporate grip of Tribune. A few weeks after the union vote, the paper was suddenly sold to Los Angeles billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong. The new owner has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the paper, pledged to make further investments, begun to replenish the newsroom, and spoken about the need for a strong, independent newspaper—indications of his aim to restore the Times to the ranks of the nation’s best. Given the paper’s recent history, Soon-Shiong’s rescue seems almost too good to be true.

“It’s truly amazing the paper continued to do the good work that it did, considering the bozos that were running it,” columnist Robin Abcarian, a 28-year veteran of the Times, says of the Tribune years. Now, she says, “I just feel like we’re on the brink of a golden era.”

In some ways, Soon-Shiong signals a 21st-century throwback to the Los Angeles Times19th-century roots. As an ethnically Chinese, South African–born physician who made his billions as a biotechnology entrepreneur, Soon-Shiong represents the diversity and progressiveness of modern-day L.A. in much the same way that the paper’s patriarch, Harrison Gray Otis, embodied the swashbuckling frontier town that was Los Angeles in the 1880s. During the 20th century, Otis and his descendants, the powerful Chandler family, made the Times into a dominant Southern California economic and political force. But much of that was undone after Tribune bought the paper in 2000.

Soon-Shiong is among the latest in a series of wealthy individuals, most notably Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who have purchased newspapers and magazines in recent years to try to restore them—with varying degrees of success. In attempting to revive the Times, Soon-Shiong will have to make up for catastrophic losses in circulation and revenue over the past 25 years and rebuild an organization gutted by Tribune’s inept stewardship. His vision is to make the Times as relevant to its community as it was in the days of the Chandlers.

 

Harrison Gray Otis
Harrison Gray Otis
THE CHANDLER DYNASTY

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that Harrison Otis and his successors in the Chandler family built Los Angeles. Sure, others could take credit for their contributions to the city’s growth—the Huntington, Doheny, and Getty families, for instance. But none of them had the advantage the Chandlers had in promoting their agenda: the power of the city’s major newspaper.

When Los Angeles needed water to grow, Otis and the Chandlers helped make it happen—as somewhat fictionalized in the film Chinatown—through canny real estate investments and by using the Times as their mouthpiece. Los Angeles’s suburban sprawl, its harbor, its freeways, its aerospace industry, the Civic Center, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Union Station, the Hollywood Bowl, Caltech, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Dodger Stadium, even Richard Nixon—the newspaper and the Chandler family created or championed all of them.

“They did not so much foster the growth of Southern California as, more simply, invent it,” David Halberstam wrote of the Chandlers in his press history, The Powers That Be. “There is water because they went and stole water. The city is horizontal instead of vertical because they were rich in land, and horizontal span was good for them, good for real estate. There is a port because they dreamed of a port.”

Otis joined the fledgling Los Angeles Daily Times as editor in 1882 and quickly made it his own. He was aided by his circulation manager, the wily Harry Chandler, who secretly bought the distribution routes of the Los Angeles Herald and sabotaged the rival paper. Chandler then married Otis’s daughter Marian to cement the family dynasty.

Otis, Chandler, and their successors organized and commanded the city’s business community. Among other things, they established L.A. as a staunch anti-union town, frustrating any effort by organized labor to gain a foothold in the city’s commerce. “There is one city in the United States where a strike has never been able to succeed. That city is Los Angeles,” Harry Chandler boasted. “The reason is because it has the Los Angeles Times.”

That led to an extreme act of violence in the middle of the night on October 1, 1910, when the Times’ headquarters was dynamited and destroyed, killing 21 people. “I wanted the whole building to go to hell,” said union leader J. B. McNamara, one of two men later convicted of the bombing. “I am sorry so many people were killed. I hoped to get General Otis.”

RISE AND FALL

The Times eventually moved into a fortresslike art deco landmark at the corner of First and Spring Streets, catty-corner from City Hall, a location that celebrated the paper’s supremacy. The Chandler family came to own well over one million acres of Southern California and benefited handsomely as Los Angeles sprawled; enormous suburbs in the San Fernando Valley and elsewhere were built on Chandler land, and Harry Chandler was an investor in an all-white development called Hollywoodland that yielded the iconic Hollywood sign.

Harry gave way to his son, Norman Chandler, in 1944, and Norman and his wife, Dorothy “Buffy” Chandler, continued as leaders and builders of Los Angeles. Their son, Otis, took over the family business in 1960 and set about modernizing the newspaper—which, truth be told, was fairly terrible. Lost in its boosterism, it was blind to how the growing city’s demographics had changed, and it was so shallow and Republican-leaning that it didn’t bother to even cover most Democratic candidates. Humorist S. J. Perelman famously claimed that on a midcentury train trip to California he asked a porter to bring him a newspaper “and unfortunately the poor man, hard of hearing, brought me the Los Angeles Times.”

Otis Chandler changed that, bringing in top-flight editors and reporters from other papers. He quickly remade the Los Angeles Times into one of the nation’s best newspapers. Growing with its city, the Times became a powerhouse. At its peak, in 1990, it sold 1.2 million papers on weekdays and 1.5 million on Sundays. Its newsroom of 1,200 journalists was the biggest in the nation; well-paid Times reporters flew first-class to far-flung assignments. Insiders called the paper “the velvet coffin.”

But the media business began to change, and so did the Los Angeles Times. Otis Chandler, the last family member to run the parent company—at that point known as Times Mirror—turned the paper over to a non-family publisher, Tom Johnson, in 1980 and left the company a few years later. “The decline of Times Mirror began when Otis Chandler left,” Johnson says. With the rise of the internet, the Los Angeles Times, like all newspapers, quickly began to lose readers and advertisers—and power.

The paper began trimming its huge staff and otherwise cutting costs. By the late 1990s, the company was being run by a former General Mills executive named Mark Willes—internally nicknamed the Cereal Killer. In 1999, the paper entered into an agreement to promote the city’s new sports venue, the Staples Center, through a special issue of the Times’ Sunday magazine, sharing proceeds with the arena’s owners. That arrangement set off a firestorm of protest inside and outside the paper, and the Chandler family decided it had had enough. A few months later, in a shocking move behind Willes’s back, the Chandler family trust sold Times Mirror—and the Los Angeles Times—to Chicago’s Tribune Company for $8.3 billion.

“The family business has been sold,” Otis Chandler said in a mournful message left on a former Times reporter’s answering machine. “We sold the family store.”

TRIBUNE TAKES OVER

Suddenly the oh-so-Californian Los Angeles Times was owned by—horrors!—Midwesterners. But Tribune was a respected media company, and many observers saw the combination of the two companies as a positive development, especially in the wake of the Staples Center fiasco. Tribune installed John Carroll from the Baltimore Sun as editor, and the Times won 13 Pulitzer Prizes for journalism excellence in five years, including a whopping five Pulitzers in 2004. However, with the newspaper business contracting, Tribune wanted to tighten the Times’ still-lavish budget. It shrank the newsroom by 200 positions in the early 2000s and pushed Carroll to cut more deeply. He refused and resigned from the paper in 2005.

Over the next few years, multiple Times publishers and editors were fired for refusing to slash costs—or quit rather than make cuts. Publisher Jeff Johnson was forced out a little more than a year after Carroll left. Carroll’s successor as editor, Dean Baquet, lasted about as long (and now edits the New York Times). His successor, James O’Shea, transplanted from the Chicago Tribune, lasted 15 months. David Hiller, the publisher installed by Tribune who forced out Baquet and O’Shea, lasted only a few more months before he too was ousted. And so on. In all, the paper had eight editors and eight publishers in less than 18 years of Tribune ownership.

The Chandler family, which owned a large stake in Tribune Co., became increasingly worried about that company’s direction—and that of the Times. They quietly searched for a local buyer for the paper—David Geffen and other L.A. billionaires were rumored candidates—before convincing Tribune’s management to sell the entire company to Chicago real estate tycoon Sam Zell. And suddenly the first few years of the Tribune era in Los Angeles seemed like a golden age of benevolent occupation.

The former Los Angeles Times building in downtown Los Angeles, which a Canadian real estate firm purchased for $105 million in September 2016—almost a year and a half before Soon-Shiong bought the newspaper.© LOS ANGELES TIMES, USED WITH PERMISSION
The former Los Angeles Times building in downtown Los Angeles, which a Canadian real estate firm purchased for $105 million in September 2016—almost a year and a half before Soon-Shiong bought the newspaper.
‘I DON’T GIVE A FUCK’

Profane and opinionated, Zell thought he could revive Tribune with bellicose management, aggressive marketing, and tricky financial engineering. In 2007, he purchased the company in a leveraged buyout for $8.2 billion, putting up only $315 million of his own money. Most of the rest came out of the employee stock ownership plan, a very risky proposition.

Zell ricocheted around the Tribune empire making ambitious promises and insulting employees who questioned him. At a meeting with members of Los Angeles’s business elite, eminent L.A. attorney Warren Christopher, the very dignified former U.S. secretary of state, told Zell that he thought the Times needed to beef up its foreign coverage. Zell replied, “You know, Warren, I don’t give a fuck what you think.”

Part of Zell’s theory in acquiring Tribune had been that he could sell the company’s valuable real estate—including the famed Los Angeles Times building and Chicago’s landmark Tribune Tower—to cover the heavy debt load. But the 2008 recession tanked the commercial real estate market, and by the end of that year Tribune had filed for bankruptcy. With characteristic bluntness, Zell, who declined to be interviewed for this story, told BusinessWeek that the acquisition was “the deal from hell.”

Tribune Co. emerged from bankruptcy four years later a much smaller company, controlled by hedge funds and investment bankers—and still cutting costs. In Los Angeles, the Times newsroom had been sliced by more than half from its peak, to about 550 employees, and daily print circulation was 454,000, less than half its 1990 pinnacle.

And then, almost impossibly, things got worse.

TECHNOLOGICAL MAGIC

Like Zell, Michael W. Ferro Jr. was a member of Chicago’s new money, a technology entrepreneur who’d hit it big. Also like Zell, he was given to making grandiose pronouncements and wearing open-necked shirts. Again like Zell, he had purchased a Chicago newspaper, Tribune rival the Chicago Sun-Times, but he was looking for bigger game. In early 2016, he paid $44.4 million for a 16.6 percent stake in what was now called Tribune Publishing. Within three weeks, Ferro—who did not respond to an interview request for this story—had installed himself as chairman, ousted Tribune’s CEO, and taken control of the company.

A self-described “idea machine,” Ferro began spewing suggestions on how to fix the newspaper business. He put out a buzzword-laden video in which two of his technology executives tried to explain how a “funnel” of journalism would be “optimized” via artificial intelligence to reach a wider audience. Or something like that. “This is the future of journalism,” one of the executives in the video gushed. “This is the future of content. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

But that wasn’t all. Ferro gave the company a new name. The venerable Tribune Publishing would now be called…

Tronc.

The new name was short for Tribune Online Content, but its jarringly onomatopoeic sound—and the goofy video—made Tronc the laughingstock of the journalism business. “Everything out of Ferro’s mouth about the business was like from Mars,” says Gabriel Kahn, a University of Southern California journalism professor and former Wall Street Journal L.A. bureau chief. Ferro, undaunted, pressed on. “This is going to be my legacy business,” Ferro said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. “I hope that this is what people remember me for 100 years from now.”

DOWNWARD SPIRAL

Once again, horrified Times stalwarts hoped against hope that some Los Angeles billionaire would step in and buy the paper. Geffen, investor Ron Burkle, and philanthropist Eli Broad were mentioned as possible white knights. Media-business raiders also saw the reeling Tronc as a target. Gannett Co. Inc., the cost-cutting newspaper conglomerate, made a hostile offer to buy the company in 2016, but Ferro parried it.

The roller-coaster ownership and ongoing staff cuts were taking their toll on the Times. Under Tronc, the newsroom fell to about 400 employees, one-third of its all-time high. By late last year, daily print circulation was down to 230,000 copies on weekdays and under 500,000 on Sundays—a stunning million readers less each week than during the Times’ heyday. Another 200,000 or so customers were paying for online and digital replica versions, but those bring in much less subscription and ad revenue.

The revolving door in the Times’ executive suite began spinning ever faster. Davan Maharaj, who had been editor since 2011, through three different publishers, was named publisher himself when Ferro took over the company, then ousted in August 2017, along with several editors, in a scandal over the paper’s handling of investigative stories about USC and OxyContin. Maharaj was replaced as editor by Jim Kirk, brought in from Tronc’s corporate office, and then by Lewis D’Vorkin, an unconventional former editor of Forbes magazine who lasted less than three months in the job.

Shell-shocked Times staffers began an active resistance. Efforts to unionize the newsroom had failed several times (the paper’s press operators had joined the Teamsters in 2007), but deepening concerns over how the company was being run provided new momentum. Upset that they hadn’t had general raises in about a decade and that Tronc had moved to stop paying employees for unused vacation time—even as Ferro was getting a $5 million annual management fee—a group of reporters and editors began creating a newsroom union. It was a proposition that seemed unthinkable given the paper’s explosive anti-union past.

END GAME

The Los Angeles Times’ nearly 20 years of tumult came to a climax in an extraordinary three-week series of events early last year. On January 18, it was reported that publisher Ross Levinsohn, an internet-industry veteran who had been on the job for just five months, had been the subject of two sexual harassment suits in previous jobs. He was placed on a leave of absence and never returned to the paper, though Tronc later cleared him in an independent investigation and made him an executive.

The next day, News Guild leaders announced that the newsroom had overwhelmingly approved forming a union—breaking with more than a century of tradition at the Times.

Six days later, the Columbia Journalism Review published an unflattering profile of editor D’Vorkin, labeling him “LA journalism’s ‘Prince of Darkness.’ ” That day, D’Vorkin suddenly suspended business editor Kimi Yoshino, allegedly for leaking to outside reporters. A staff uproar ensued. Two days later, the news broke that Tronc had been secretly assembling a shadow Times newsroom that would collect and publish content from unpaid contributors. That triggered even more staff dissension.

It’s hard to pinpoint the catalyst for what happened next, and executives at Tronc—since renamed Tribune Publishing—did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Certainly, the simultaneous leadership scandals were bringing unwanted national press attention to Tronc and the Times; the formation of the union was also a watershed event. On January 28, Tronc removed D’Vorkin as editor and replaced him with previous editor Jim Kirk. The Times had now had four editors—counting Kirk twice—in six months.

Executive editor Norman Pearlstine in the newsroom of the Los Angeles Times’ new building. Soon-Shiong moved the newspaper’s operations to El Segundo, about 19 miles away from its former downtown L.A. headquarters.KEVIN SCANLON
Executive editor Norman Pearlstine in the newsroom of the Los Angeles Times’ new building. Soon-Shiong moved the newspaper’s operations to El Segundo, about 19 miles away from its former downtown L.A. headquarters.
THE SAVIOR

And then, 10 days later, on February 7, like the sun suddenly breaking through the L.A. haze, a miracle occurred: Tronc announced that Patrick Soon-Shiong was purchasing the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and a collection of smaller California papers for $500 million.

Soon-Shiong was no stranger to Tronc or the Times. Often described as the richest man in Los Angeles, with a fortune estimated by Forbes at $7.6 billion, he had been recruited by Ferro in 2016 to purchase a 13 percent stake in the company to help ward off Gannett’s advances. Soon-Shiong quickly had a falling-out with Ferro, but stayed a part owner of the company.

Born in South Africa to parents who had fled the Japanese invasion of China, Soon-Shiong grew up under apartheid, “neither black nor white,” as he says. His family didn’t have a TV, but he was a big fan of newspapers, idolizing anti-apartheid South African editor Donald Woods and working as a delivery boy for his hometown Port Elizabeth Evening Post. “This is the kind of environment where, without the newspapers, democracy wouldn’t have existed,” he says of South Africa. “When I say newspapers [are] in my blood, it is in my blood.”

Soon-Shiong became a surgeon and then a medical entrepreneur. After moving to Los Angeles in 1980, he performed the first pancreas transplant on the West Coast and developed drugs to fight diabetes and cancer. He sold one of his drug companies to a German firm in 2008 for $4.6 billion, then sold his anticancer-drug company, Abraxis BioScience, to Celgene for $3.8 billion.

Now 66, Soon-Shiong has become a prominent figure in Los Angeles, even buying part of the L.A. Lakers. He continues to develop business ideas in everything from medicine to computing to e-sports and is often praised for his smarts and creativity. Forbes has said that he has a “deep streak of P.T. Barnum showmanship,” along with a history of controversy: over the years, he’s faced lawsuits by his brother and Cher over investments they each made in his companies. (He reached a $32 million settlement with his brother; Cher dropped her suit.)

Soon-Shiong is soft-spoken and very bright, with an infectious laugh. He’ll need all his skills to heal his ailing newspaper. Fond of using medical metaphors to describe his vision for the Times, he says, “I always believe that the community doctor…is probably the most valuable asset of the community. He knows everybody and touches everybody and [delivers] everybody’s children—and I think that kind of concept translates very much into what a newspaper brings to the community.”

The new owner has grand plans to restore the Times to greatness, and he’s already spent heavily to do so—the $500 million to buy the paper (he admits he overpaid; analysts say the deal was worth half that), plus another $200 million or so in capital investment and operating expenses, just in the first few months. “The legacy of this paper is important to save, so what price is that worth?” he says.

He hired a well-respected executive editor, former Wall Street Journal and Time Inc. leader Norman Pearlstine; has brought on more than 80 new staffers, including New York Times star Sewell Chan, former Slate editor in chief Julia Turner, and Alta contributor Gustavo Arellano; and pledges to open new bureaus around the world. The Washington bureau, once an industry gem with a staff of more than 60, before being cut to 11 and facing elimination under Tronc, is back to 20 reporters and growing.

Screens in the newsroom track how many readers convert from story clicks to digital subscriptions—the goal is 1,000,000 online subscribers by 2021 from a current base of about 160,000—and the Times is working to overhaul its antiquated computer systems, website, and mobile app to make them more competitive. The paper is expanding into podcasts, cable TV shows, and streaming programming. “Within 12 months, we’re going to be everywhere,” Soon-Shiong says.

FINDING A MODEL THAT WORKS

Still, Soon-Shiong’s blueprint for the new Los Angeles Times is a bit vague, at least publicly. “So far, he’s been able to bask in this spotlight of the savior of the L.A. Times,” says Kahn, the USC journalism professor. “What he gave them is what all benevolent billionaires do, which is runway.… What he still doesn’t have is an approach.”

For much of its history, the paper has been torn between being focused on Los Angeles and California and competing nationally with the likes of the New York Times. But it appears that under Soon-Shiong and Pearlstine, the paper will focus on the city and its surroundings and on California as a nation-state that sets trends far beyond its borders. There are plans to beef up the Times’ traditionally (and oddly) thin coverage of Hollywood, celebrities, and technology and to double down on important current topics of local and national interest like immigration, the border, trade, and climate change. “California truly leads the nation, and the nation leads the world,” Soon-Shiong says. “So the corollary is that California leads the world. And nobody could know California better than the Los Angeles Times.”

Pearlstine ticks off several areas in which he wants the paper to lead coverage: “Food, sports, entertainment, lifestyle, art…places where we think we can create content that an audience will want and in many cases pay for, and not just in Southern California.… There’s a global audience for a lot of that content, and not just print or mobile but video, events.” Pearlstine is a youthful 76, and while he sees the rebuilding of the Times as a multiyear project, he concedes that “part of my job is clearly to build a next generation of leadership and, obviously, find a successor.”

THE BILLIONAIRES’ CLUB

The model of very wealthy individuals stepping in to buy failing newspapers has become fairly popular in recent years—with mixed results. For every Jeff Bezos of Amazon buying the Washington Post and returning it to greatness, there’s a John Henry struggling to turn around the Boston Globe and a Brian Tierney riding the Philadelphia Inquirer into bankruptcy. Some observers note that Soon-Shiong’s fortune is only about 1/20th the size of Bezos’s. How deep will his pockets be as costs and losses mount? A few miles down the 405 from L.A., not-as-rich guy Aaron Kushner and some partners bought the Orange County Register in 2012, nearly doubled its newsroom—and ran out of money before slashing staff and being forced out by investors who made further cuts.

Soon-Shiong’s short tenure has had its difficult moments. In addition to the late-December malware attack, the paper suffered a huge blow just after the ownership change when beloved food critic Jonathan Gold—“an anthropologist masquerading as a critic,” as Pearlstine puts it—died of pancreatic cancer. Gold was such an outsize figure to the paper and the city that the Times has had to hire a team of critics to replace him. It recently announced plans to relaunch a full-blown food section.

The new management is also dealing with the new union, trying to overcome years of stagnant wages, mismanagement, and staff distrust. “It is what it is,” Soon-Shiong says of the local News Guild. “The problem is, once you have a union, you live by a rule that is now collective. So how do you then support meritocracy and not go to the lowest common denominator? That’s something I think we will be challenged with.”

Nevertheless, after a couple of decades of turbulence, it’s clear that the attitude at the Los Angeles Times has suddenly turned quite positive. “When I think about where we were two years ago versus where we are now, it’s head-spinning,” says staff writer Carolina Miranda, one of the leaders of the union. “I think people are feeling hope in the L.A. Times newsroom for the first time in years.”

And in a comment that eerily echoes Michael Ferro before him, Soon-Shiong speaks of building a legacy. “This is not a vanity project for me; this is not a business project for me in terms of return on investment,” he says, giggling a bit at the last few words. “What it is, is a sustainable project for all of us as a democracy, as humanity. So I do this as a 100-year project.”

THE NEW VIEW

There’s been one big change under Soon-Shiong. After the bankruptcy, Tribune sold the Timesart deco palace downtown to a Canadian real estate group, which is converting it into a mixed-use residential and commercial complex. This forced Soon-Shiong last summer to move the newspaper’s offices to a nondescript modern building in El Segundo, just south of Los Angeles International Airport, about 19 miles from the old building—but a lot more distant in L.A. traffic, many staffers grumble.

The building sits in a neighborhood consisting largely of warehouses, in the shadow of a hulking AT&T office complex. Next door is a large vacant building that Soon-Shiong is converting into space for events, video and audio studios, and a venue for his pet e-sports ventures. The old headquarters had an enormous spinning globe in its ornate, marble-floored lobby, surrounded by large murals depicting L.A. history; visitors to the new building are greeted by a cramped entrance with a temporary-looking reception desk and a metal detector. Upstairs, the offices—designed by Soon-Shiong’s wife, Michelle Chan—are modern, open, and airy.

From the seventh-floor newsroom, the immediate view north is of the FedEx terminal at LAX, across the street. Beyond that lies the entire sweep of Los Angeles—the freeways, the downtown skyscrapers, the suburbs that the Chandlers and their Times built. Way off in the distance, its white letters barely visible against the green of the Santa Monica Mountains, is Harry Chandler’s Hollywood sign.

Alta contributor Mark Potts has covered business and the media for the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Associated Press. His article “Arabian Adventure” in Alta, Winter 2017, won Honorable Mention in the 2018 Eddie and Ozzie Awards.

L.A. TIMES TIMELINE

• 1881: Founded as the Los Angeles Daily Times
• 1882: Harrison Gray Otis becomes the editor and, two years later, owner of the newspaper
• 1894: Harry Chandler marries Otis’s daughter, and the Chandler family Times ownership dynasty is born
• 1910: In protest of the Times’ opposition to local unions, its headquarters is bombed by union leaders, killing 21 people
• 1990: Times circulation peaks at 1,225,189 daily and 1,514,096 on Sundays
• 2000: Chicago’s Tribune Co. purchases the Times’ parent company, Times Mirror, for $8.3 billion, ending more than a century of Chandler family ownership.
• DECEMBER 2007: Real estate developer Sam Zell purchases Tribune Co. and the Times in a leveraged buyout for $8.2 billion
• DECEMBER 2008: With $13 billion in debt, Tribune Co. files for bankruptcy protection
• DECEMBER 2012: Tribune Co. emerges from bankruptcy protection, partly owned by private equity firms
• FEBRUARY 2016: Chicago entrepreneur Michael W. Ferro Jr.’s Merrick Media invests $44 million for a 16.6 percent stake in Tribune Publishing, then takes control of the company
• JUNE 2016: Tribune Publishing rebranded as Tronc
• JANUARY 2018: Newsroom employees vote to unionize; Times publisher Ross Levinsohn placed on unpaid leave amid allegations of past improper behavior; Times editor Lewis D’Vorkin replaced after less than three months in the job
• FEBRUARY 2018: Patrick Soon-Shiong purchases the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune from Tronc

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