San Diego Union Tribune Sold Again And Facing Looming Cutbacks & Layoffs "To Offset The Slowdown In Revenues"

July 10, 2023

The San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper has been sold for an undisclosed price for the sixth time in the last 15 years, and the company will soon face cutbacks "necessary to offset the slowdown in revenues." 

According to a memo sent to U-T staff Monday, the Los Angeles Times parent company has sold the San Diego Union-Tribune and the U-T Community Press newspapers, including the La Jolla Light, to "vulture capitalist" firm Alden Global Capital, the parent company of Media News Group, which runs around 200 publications including Southern California News Group papers like the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, and Riverside Press-Enterprise. The acquisition by the paired N.Y. investment firm and Denver-based media company now take San Diego Union-Tribune completely out from any definition of "local" ownership.

"The Union-Tribune is a great news organization with a long, distinguished history that I hope will continue to serve the San Diego community for generations to come," stated LA Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong in the memo. "Our intention now is to focus on the ongoing work of transforming the L.A. Times into a self-sustaining institution. Our hometown of Los Angeles and the state of California – really, the West Coast – needs a strong, independent news organization. We believe in the L.A. Times and are committed to its future."

The San Diego Union-Tribune dates back to 1868. It was bought by Tribune Publishing in 2015 and sold along with the L.A. Times for $500 million to biotech billionaire, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, in 2018. Over the years, the Union-Tribune was sold to Platinum Equity in 2009, then to MLIM Holdings in 2011, followed by "Papa" Doug Manchester in 2012, then to Tribune Publishing, which later changed its name to Tronc, in 2015, and lastly to Soon-Shiong.

MediaNews Group, which owns more than 100 newspapers across the country, has been criticized in journalism circles for cost-cutting methods that have included staff reductions in its papers' newsrooms. The company is the second largest newspaper publisher in the United States. The parent company's founder, Randy Duncan Smith, is known as a pioneer of vulture capitalism, the purchase and dismantling of distressed companies. 

"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," read an email sent to Union-Tribune employees from Sharon Ryan, executive vice president of California for MediaNews Group. "Reductions will be necessary to offset the slowdown in revenues as economic headwinds continue to impact the media industry. We will seek efficiencies in business operations, distribution and production while striving to support and prioritize the robust, local newsgathering needed to serve the communities that rely on the Union-Tribune for excellence in journalism."

Union-Tribune staff members were notified that new ownership plans to offer buyouts through early next week. If the company does not "reach a sufficient number of employees" to accept buyouts, "the company will lay off additional employees." The Union-Tribune currently employs around 220 people in the company with 108 in the newsroom. The Los Angeles Times recently announced it was eliminating 74 positions, which is approximately 13% percent of its workforce.