A tweet from media mogul Rupert Murdoch is fueling long-swirling rumors that Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad is part of a group that would buy the Los Angeles Times from Chicago owner Tribune Publishing. If true, the deal would put the paper in the hands of local owners for the first time in 15 years, a period that has seen mass staff departures and thinning profits.
Broad said through a spokeswoman that he declined to comment. He did not directly deny the claim.
Murdoch had posted on Twitter Friday: “Strong word Tribune newspaper group to be bought by big Wall St firm, LA Times to go to philanthropist Eli Broad and local group.” Murdoch, executive chairman of News Corp., later tweeted that he had “no bid” and “no interest” in the deal.
The fate of the Times has been under speculation since Tribune Publishing fired publisher Austin Beutner in September, about a year after he had taken the helm with ambitious plans to enhance the paper’s business model. Broad was among more than 60 civic and business leaders in Los Angeles rallying for a local leader to be instated, prompting expectations that Beutner would resume his role if Broad were to take over. Beutner did not respond to a request for comment.
Tribune Publishing was not responsive. The media group that owns print and digital publications across the country told the Business Journal in October that it was not interested in selling the Los Angeles Times, calling the publication “integral to the company’s business model.” Tribune Publishing previously had rejected an offer from Broad.
But veteran L.A. investment banker Lloyd Greif said that Tribune Publishing could be ready to change its tune as part of a plan to sell off all its publications, piece by piece, as it orders staff cuts.
“I think Tribune Publishing is dead in the water, and they need to do something,” he said. “They just can’t keep cutting it anymore.”
The sell-off of the Times would come just as Tribune Publishing approves mass buyouts at the newspaper in a drastic cost-cutting measure. According to recent counts by local media, nearly 80 Los Angeles Times staffers, most of them veteran reporters and high-ranking editors, plan to depart the paper by the end of the year.
Besides Broad, biopharmaceutical magnate Patrick Soon-Shiong, L.A. County’s wealthiest person, along with L.A. entertainment mogul David Geffen have been rumored to be also keen on taking the reins. Greif said he thought they could still assume a role as part of a cohort of local owners.
“Local” is the key word many observers have pondered in considering the future of Times coverage. Although the newspaper once competed with the New York Times on national and international reporting, it has scaled back its scope in recent years, focusing on California and regional news.
Greif anticipates that local ownership will reinforce that direction, pushing coverage of local politics, local implications for national news and investigative journalism.
“I think you are seeing the beginning of the end of Tribune Publishing, and a rebirth for the L.A. Times,” he said.
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