The long-awaited end to the tronc-Gannett saga might be near.

Politico reported last week that Gannett was close to finalizing a deal to purchase the parent company of the Los Angeles Times, while Bloomberg followed with a report claiming that while talks had advanced, a deal was not imminent. Gannett began its public pursuit of tronc, then known as Tribune Publishing, on April 25 when it announced its $815 million offer to acquire the company for $12.25 a share in cash. The reported price for the deal now said to be on the table would be closer to $19 a share – an increase of nearly 50 percent from the original offer.

While the higher price could suit tronc Chairman Michael Ferro, it might displease the company’s second-largest shareholder: billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, who has harbored a longstanding interest in owning the paper. In June, he invested $70.5 million in tronc and received a seat on the board. Soon-Shiong has reportedly threatened to file a lawsuit against tronc should the company complete a sale to Gannett so soon after he invested in Ferro’s vision.

“Even if he’s upset, he has a fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders,” said Lloyd Greif, chief executive of investment banking firm Greif & Co. “Its stock performance will depend on how well the companies are integrated postacquisition.”

A Gannett spokeswoman declined to comment on the Politico report and a tronc representative did not return a request for comment. A spokesman for Soon-Shiong said he could not be reached for comment.

Tronc’s stock fell to $17.05 at close of trading on Oct. 6 after rising to $17.50 on Oct. 3.

Freedom of Press

While the presidential nominees were busy trading barbs at the first presidential debate last month, hundreds of writers and journalists gathered to celebrate the power of free speech at an awards gala organized by Pen Center USA, a human rights and literary nonprofit based in Beverly Hills.

The Sept. 28 event at the Beverly Wilshire hotel honored writers in fiction, nonfiction, and journalism, with special awards given to author Isabel Allende, (Lifetime Achievement); Jason Rezaian, former bureau chief for the Washington Post in Tehran, Iran (Freedom to Write); and Willow Bay, director of the Annenberg School of Journalism at USC (Award of Honor).

Bay, a veteran television journalist, has led Annenberg since 2014. In addition to her academic role, she serves as senior strategic adviser for the Huffington Post and is a special correspondent for Bloomberg Television. However, Bay said after the event that she’s most proud of some of her earliest newsroom experiences, such as a stint at CNN.

“CNN’s ‘Moneyline’ really required me to stretch – I was learning about new companies that were emerging during the first tech boom, many of which had funny names,” she said, noting that she was the first female co-anchor on the financial news program.

The Pen Center, founded in 1943 to support freedom of expression and literary arts programming, raised more than $40,000 at the event.

Get Grilled

TheWrap’s TheGrill media leadership conference, an annual gathering of entertainment professionals, took place last month at the Montage Beverly Hills. Its participants spent much of the time discussing the ways technology has forced media companies to shift their business models, with topics including the rapid evolution of virtual reality, cord-cutting in television, and the future of moviegoing, among others.

Founded and curated by Sharon Waxman, chief executive and editor-in-chief of the online entertainment trade publication, the event featured one-on-one conversations and panel discussions with show business industry leaders over the course of two days.

Waxman kicked off the conference with a conversation with Michael Lynton, chief executive of Sony Entertainment Inc. The pair discussed a number of issues including the 2014 cyberattack on the studio and the recent Chinese buying spree in Hollywood. (Sony last month struck a deal with Dalian Wanda Group that gave the studio a cash infusion and the Chinese company some creative input in the Sony slate.)

“Michael was very revealing,” said Waxman. “He shared the lessons he learned from the hack and was very candid about how it affected the studio.”

About 250 industry leaders attended the conference, which is a large source of revenue for TheWrap and an event that Waxman said helps the company differentiate itself in the competitive Hollywood trade publication space. Now in its seventh year, tickets range from $800 to $2,000.

“We’ve extended the conference by a half-day and added many more breakout sessions,” she said. “And while we’re all about embracing the new, what we’re really about is celebrating great content. That doesn’t mean throwing away the old.”

Staff reporter Kristin Marguerite Doidge can be reached at kdoidge@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 226.

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