The San Diego Union-Tribune is being sold to Patrick Soon-Shiong, a Los Angeles physician and major shareholder of parent company Tronc, according to news reports.

Sunday’s edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune. Photo by Ken Stone

The U-T is part of a larger deal for the Los Angeles Times, said The Washington Post, which broke the news Tuesday afternoon, calling it a surprise move for the Chicago-based media company.

The Post quoted people involved in the deal who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to talk.

NPR’s David Folkenflik soon confirmed the Post report, tweeting: “Tronc decision to unload LAT (and San Diego U-T) follows LAT unionization & collapse of upper mgt after NPR’s Ross Levinsohn revelations.”

“Soon-Shiong is the billionaire founder and chief executive of NantHealth, based in Culver City. He will also buy [the Times] sister newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune,” the Post reported.

The acquisition would make it the fourth change in ownership since March 2009, when private investment group Platinum Equity of Beverly Hills took over from the Copley family, the longtime San Diego owners.

Real estate magnate Doug Manchester bought the paper and its Mission Valley real estate in November 2011, then sold the paper in May 2015 to the Tribune Publishing Co. (later Tronc, for Tribune online content).

However, The New York Times reported that the deal — which could be announced as soon as Wednesday — might still fall apart.

“Tronc is likely to use the sale proceeds to pay down its debt,” the New York paper said.

The Union-Tribune this year is marking its 150th anniversary, tracing its origins to Old Town San Diego and the San Diego Union.

News of the reported sale spread like wildfire through The Times’ downtown office. One staffer posted on Twitter that there were cheers and screams in the newsroom.

The newsroom has been in turmoil in recent weeks. A new editor, Jim Kirk, was named in late January following rising concern by staffers over the direction of newsroom management and concerns about the blurring of the line between the news and business departments.

Kirk replaced Lewis D’Vorkin, who was moved to the position of chief content for digital and mobile customers.

The paper’s publisher, Ross Levinsohn, was placed on unpaid leave following revelations he was a defendant in two sexual harassment suits while working at other companies prior to joining The Times.

Most notably, newsroom staffers voted overwhelmingly last month to unionize for the first time in the paper’s 136-year history.

Soon-Shiong is the founder and CEO of Culver City-based NantHealth. A representative for Soon-Shiong told the Post he was traveling and unavailable for comment on the report.

The U-T profiled Soon-Shiong in May 2016, saying he was well-acquainted with San Diego County as a biotech hub.

“One of his companies, Culver City-based NantKwest, recently announced plans to open a manufacturing facility on the Torrey Pines Mesa, the epicenter of San Diego biotechnology,” the story said. “The plant will produce immune cells for NantKwest’s cancer immunotherapy product.”

Soon-Shiong twice visited San Diego in 2016 to outline his vision for fighting cancer, the paper said.

“He spoke at the Global Life Science Partnering conference of Biocom, the San Diego-based life science trade group, on his cancer ‘moonshot’ strategy. He also spoke at the Future of Genomic Medicine conference in La Jolla.

The U-T sought reactions from readers.

Other comments and coverage:

— City News Service contributed to this report.

Show comments