Five Takeaways from LA Weekly’s Fabulous LA Times Feature

Timing is everything. Just a few days before this week’s LA Weekly article “Who Will Buy the LA Times?” by Hillel Aron, CNBC broke the news that JPMorgan and Evercore will be handling the sale of the paper and other Tribune Co. assets.

That context gives the piece some extra urgency, and from this excellent bit of work by Aron, we were most struck by the following:

Richest Man in LA vs. Richest Man in the World: Aron references Patrick Soon-Shiong (pictured) in connection with former mayoral candidate Austin Beutner’s effort to put together a stealth group of combined LAT buyers. Surprisingly (at least to us), nowhere in the article does Carlos Slim come up, the man responsible for the relaunch of Larry King and much more. Aron confirms to FishbowlLA that it was not a case of being edited out; “no one ever mentioned Slim,” the writer says.

Two Shades of WSJ: The article characterizes Rupert Murdoch as the man who could potentially outbid everyone, with media expert Ken Doctor telling Aron the Wall Street Journal owner remains the odds-on favorite to acquire the newspaper. Doctor also thinks the two publications’ editorial and ad operations could be streamlined in a number of intriguing ways.

Which is perhaps ironic, because Aron also reminds that Times publisher and Tribune Co. CEO Eddie Hartenstein took a lot of flack internally for his decision to allow the Journal to print at the LAT, bumping the paper’s daily schedule down and “ruining its time-zone advantage over east coast papers.”

Sam Zell Zinger: The best outright quote in the feature belongs to Tim Rutten. The veteran columnist, who was let go from the paper in 2011, says Sam Zell “was the most vulgar, repellent rich person I’ve ever met.”

The Dangers of Email: Any way you slice it, the loss of Geoff Boucher was a huge blow to the Times‘ entertainment coverage. In revisiting that chapter, Aron highlights that sometimes, the Internet’s ability to mangle tone and nuance can make a hero feel like a zero. “Various versions of these events exist, but many say that emails from [culture editor John] Corrigan to Boucher left Boucher feeling insulted and alienated,” Aron writes.

A Tale of Two Paywalls: Next Tuesday (March 5) is the one-year anniversary of the paywall. Intriguingly, this LAT anniversary comes at a time when another venerable and historic local publication bought by a wealthy suitor (Variety, Jay Penske) has officially ditched a paywall put in place three years ago.

Orange County Register publisher Aaron Kushner indicated last year that he envisioned a paywall for the paper’s website (and sure enough, a recent report suggests this will happen later in the year with help from a company called Syncronex). It will be interesting to see how that element of the Times is tweaked by new owners. It’s unlikely the paid subscriber tier will be dropped, but it could still be radically re-engineered.

A source tells Aron that for the pre-paywall year of 2011, the LA Times made a profit of $70 million. Read the full LA Weekly article here.

[Photo of Soon-Shiong: courtesy @solvehealthcare; Murdoch, cinemafestival/]